Abbas to The Times of Israel: Netanyahu’s unity government could make peace if it wanted to

Speaking in Istanbul, Palestinian president says his side is ready for a deal

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Mahmoud Abbas with a WEF participant at the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul. (photo credit: Raphael Ahren / Times of Israel staff)
Mahmoud Abbas with a WEF participant at the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul. (photo credit: Raphael Ahren / Times of Israel staff)

ISTANBUL — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday he was ready for peace and that he believed Israel’s unity government could make peace as well, if it had the will.

“The government can make peace, if they want to,” Abbas told The Times of Israel from the Dolmabahçe Palace in Istanbul. “We want to make peace, we are ready.”

Earlier in the day, Abbas said he was willing to return to the negotiating table if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu answered “two simple questions.”

When asked what those questions were, he refused to elaborate.

“I can’t answer this,” he said. “You will have to ask Netanyahu.”

An Israeli official who spoke on the condition of anonymity denied knowledge of any two questions that remained unanswered, saying that Netanyahu had responded to Abbas’ questions three weeks earlier with a letter sent via negotiator Yitzhak Molcho.

When reached for comment, Prime Minister’s Office spokesperson Mark Regev said Netanyahu had also expressed his willingness to restart peace talks.

“Israel remains ready for the immediate resumption of peace talks without any preconditions.,” Regev said. “The prime minister has stated his willingness to meet President Abbas in Jerusalem in Ramallah or in a third country. We are ready.”

On April 17, a Palestinian delegation handed Netanyahu a letter from Abbas, in which he demanded that Israel accept the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and cease all building over the Green Line.

“I expect your understanding that settlement building is eroding the Palestinian trust in your commitment to reconciliation and the idea of the two-state solution,” Abbas wrote, according to a draft of the letter obtained by The Times of Israel. “The logic is simple: If you support the establishment of a Palestinian state, why do you build on its territory?”

Israel responded to the letter, but according to political sources in Jerusalem the response contained no groundbreaking announcements likely to advance the stalled peace process. Negotiations have been on hold since.

A government official with knowledge of the exchange of letters said that Abbas’ letter was very aggressive and accusatory and consisted of a restating of “hardline” Palestinian positions. “We thought about how to respond and decided that we would not use the same tone but be more reconciliatory. We wrote to Abbas that all issues need to be discussed at the negotiation table and that we’re having a historic opportunity to reach an agreement. We’re ready to resume negotiations.”

Abbas is in Istanbul for a meeting of the World Economic Forum. Earlier Tuesday he called on international leaders to pressure Israel into stopping settlement building, which he has long listed as a precondition for talks.

Despite the summit’s focus on the Middle East, Israel did not send an official delegation.

Joshua Davidovich contributed to this report.

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