Israeli and Palestinian officials held another round of negotiations in Jerusalem Monday, where they agreed to honor an American request to increase the pace of talks.
“The intensity of the conversations went up,” a senior Palestinian official told Reuters, “and the sides agreed to extend the meetings to eight hours a day, and to increase their frequency. Within two months, they will need to see in Washington how the unavoidable gaps between the sides have been minimized.”
“Up till now,” he said, ”we haven’t achieved anything.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry announced on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in late September that Israelis and Palestinians had agreed to intensify peace talks aimed at reaching a final status agreement.
The secretary said that negotiators had engaged in seven rounds of bilateral talks in recent months, with a number of those meetings including US Special Envoy Martin Indyk.
Also Monday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sounded an optimistic note in a Ramallah meeting with 12 MKs –11 from Labor and one from Hatnua — regarding peace talks.
“The period of nine months [set aside for the current talks] is enough to reach an agreement,” Abbas said, “All the issues were discussed in the past, whether at Camp David, Taba, or with [former PM Ehud] Olmert.
He emphasized that security cooperation with Israel was at an all-time high. “You all know, and the world knows, that cooperation on all issues, on a day-to-day basis, is at 100%. The reason is simple: we want a completely normal atmosphere between Israelis and Palestine.”
The MKs were in Ramallah on a visit of the Knesset Caucus to Resolve the Arab-Israeli Conflict headed by MK Hilik Bar (Labor).
The caucus’s previous meeting, which took place in the Knesset in late July, was joined by PA representatives and marked the first time the Palestinian flag was raised in Israel’s parliament. No Israeli flag was in evidence, however, during Monday’s Ramallah meeting.
The MKs were met in Ramallah by a group of senior Palestinian officials, including Abbas’s adviser Yasser Abed Rabo and presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh.
On Sunday, speaking at the 20th anniversary ceremony of Bar-Ilan University’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu placed blame for the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Ramallah’s refusal to come to terms with Israel as a Jewish state.
“The Palestinians must abandon their refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to have their national state,” he said.
Netanyahu dismissed claims that Israel’s presence in the West Bank stood at the heart of the conflict, stating instead that as long as the Palestinians don’t internalize the Jewish state’s right to exist, there will not be peace.
“In order for the process in which we find ourselves to be significant… in order for it to have a real chance of success,” he said, referring to the current rounds of negotiations begun this summer, “it’s necessary to hear the Palestinian leadership finally say that it recognizes the right of the Jewish people to a state of its own, which is the state of Israel.”
“I hope that it shall be so, so that we can advance a real solution to the conflict,” continued Netanyahu.
Also Sunday, Maariv reported that Israel and the Palestinian Authority have reached an impasse due to an Israeli refusal to discuss land-swap and border issues.
According to an unnamed, senior foreign diplomat with knowledge of the discussions, during the latest round of talks the Israeli team of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Netanyahu adviser Yitzhak Molcho made it clear to the Palestinians that Israel intends to retain some of the settlement blocs as part of a final agreement, but refused to name which areas or discuss possible compensation to the Palestinians for the territory to be annexed.
Havig Rettig Gur and The Associated Press contributed to this report.