‘Netanyahu was ready for border talks, settlement freeze’

Palestinian leadership knew of PM’s new stance before announcing Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal, TV report says

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu observes the Jordan Valley with IDF officers during a tour in 2011. (Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu observes the Jordan Valley with IDF officers during a tour in 2011. (Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was ready to begin final border discussions and also to implement a construction ban in the settlements, before the Wednesday Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement prompted Jerusalem to suspend the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, it was reported on Thursday.

The prime minister did not intend to present a final border proposal, but rather had planned to present to the Palestinians, via the Israeli negotiating team, a map that would have served as a starting point for comprehensive final border discussions, according to a Thursday Channel 10 report, which did not cite a source for the claim.

In addition, Netanyahu was prepared to halt new construction in the settlements, but insisted that building continue for projects already underway, the report said. This was a provision the Palestinians did not accept, saying that the Palestinian public would not be able to distinguish between new constructions and the continuation of already begun projects.

According to the TV report, the fact that Netanyahu was formally prepared to begin negotiations over the borders of a Palestinian state was known to the Palestinian Authority before the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement was announced in Gaza on Wednesday.

That announcement paved the way for Hamas and Fatah to form a technocratic unity government within five weeks, and hold new elections six months later, after years of bitter rivalry. Similar agreements have been announced several times in recent years, but not implemented.

The reconciliation deal is a “direct continuation of the Palestinian refusal to advance the talks,” Netanyahu said Thursday, citing what he said was the Palestinian rejection last month of a US framework agreement to extend negotiations, PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and Abbas’s recent application to join UN and other international treaties.

Abbas had demanded a settlement freeze and an intensive focus on border negotiations among preconditions for an extension of peace talks, before the Fatah-Hamas unity pact scuppered efforts to get the talks back on track.

Israeli officials said Thursday that the government decision to suspend peace talks, which was approved by a unanimous vote in the top-level security cabinet, was carefully worded so as not to rule out a possible resumption if, in the next five weeks, Abbas fails to agree with Hamas on the composition of a unity government as scheduled. At the same time, the wording was also designed to make plain that Israel will not negotiate with any Palestinian government that rests on Hamas support, even if there are actually no Hamas ministers sitting around the cabinet table.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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