Israeli prime ministerial envoy Yitzhak Molcho met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Saturday evening in Ramallah and handed him a letter from Benjamin Netanyahu.
After the meeting, the two sides released a joint statement saying that “Israel and the Palestinian Authority are committed to achieving peace and the sides hope that the exchange of letters between President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu will further this goal.”
The prime minister’s letter was a response to a note from Abbas that Palestinian negotiators gave to Netanyahu last month.
No details of the Netanyahu letter were released, but it was widely believed that the prime minister reiterated his commitment to holding peace talks with no pre-conditions. It was thought unlikely that he offered Abbas significant new terms for talks.
The modest exchange is the highest-level communication between the two sides in months.
Abbas said last Tuesday that he would be ready to resume peace negotiations with Israel if Netanyahu proposed any positive steps. “If there is anything promising or positive of course we will engage,” he said.
In his letter to Netanyahu April 17, delivered by senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, Abbas demanded that Israel accept the establishment of a Palestinian state “on the 1967 borders” with possible minor adjustments, halt all building over the Green Line, and release all prisoners. If Israel failed to do this, Abbas vowed, the Palestinians would “seek the full and complete implementation of international law” to deal with Israel’s presence “as occupying power in all of the occupied Palestinian territory.” The situation as it stands, he stated, “cannot continue.”
Meanwhile on Saturday, officials said Israelis and Palestinians were negotiating through Egyptian mediators to end a mass Palestinian hunger strike. Earlier on Saturday, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said talks on the issue were moving ahead.
Some 1,600 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails are on hunger strike to demand better conditions and to put an end to detention without trial. The Egyptian-brokered talks mark the first time that substantive negotiations have been reported to be under way to defuse the protest since it began weeks, and in some cases months, ago.
Palestinian officials say Egyptian mediators are trying to hash out an agreement between the strikers and Israel. An Israeli official confirmed talks were taking place but would not elaborate.
All requested anonymity, because of the matter’s sensitivity. Egyptian officials weren’t immediately available for comment.
Two men, Thaer Halahleh and Bilal Diab, have been on strike for more than 70 days. Both are members of Islamic Jihad, a
Palestinian militant group that has killed hundreds in suicide bombings, shootings and other attacks.
It is not clear whether Halhaleh and Diab were involved in any terrorist activity because they are being held under “administrative detention,” a policy that can keep some Palestinian prisoners for months — even years — without charges. Israel has defended administrative detentions as a necessary tool to stop militant activity.
According to prison officials, at least 1,600 of the 4,600 Palestinians held by Israel are refusing food. Palestinians say about 2,500 strikers are striking.
Israel is hesitant to clinch a deal with the prisoners, fearing it will encourage more strikes. Many of the Palestinians striking have been convicted of involvement in deadly attacks.
Israel’s prisons service says the striking Palestinians are under constant medical supervision and are in stable condition.