Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday he was willing to negotiate a peace deal with whoever emerges as prime minister following Israel’s April 9 election.
The Palestinian leader’s comments were his first public statements on the Israeli vote since it was announced late last year.
They were reported by participants in a meeting in Ramallah Thursday between Abbas, 35 Israeli businesspeople and members of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society.
“He told us that he is absolutely opposed to intervening in the elections in Israel,” Ilan Paz, a retired IDF general who was in attendance, told The Times of Israel. “But he said he wishes to negotiate with whoever is elected prime minister,” he added.
Ziad Darwish and Ahmad al-Hindi, members of the PLO Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society who also attended the meeting, confirmed Paz’s comments.
Israel is slated to hold national elections on April 9. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is leading in the polls, though former IDF chief Benny Gantz has emerged as his main challenger.
On Tuesday, Gantz indicated to supporters that he wished to achieve peace. “Under my leadership, the government will strive for peace and will not miss an opportunity to bring about regional change,” he said.
The last time Abbas and an Israeli prime minister met formally for negotiations was in September 2010 in Jerusalem, when he met with Netanyahu on the tail end of a 10-month settlement freeze.
Israel and the Palestinians last held peace talks in 2014, but their leaders didn’t meet.
Since Israel announced the elections, the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership has made few comments regarding it.
Abbas also pledged to continue security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians, Darwish said.
“President Abbas said security cooperation is a red line,” Darwish, who is also a cousin of the deceased Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, said in a phone call. “He said despite the difficult situation, we will not give it up and it will continue.”
The PA president has long supported security cooperation between Israel and PA security forces.
In September Abbas told Israeli peace activists in a meeting in Ramallah that Israeli and PA security forces work together “on a daily basis” and that he and his people “do anything possible so that no Israeli gets hurt,” according to Peace Now, who was in attendance.