Palestinians rebuff Netanyahu’s call for direct peace talks

PA says negotiations will ‘waste time’ unless accompanied by settlement freeze

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meet in Jerusalem in 2010 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meet in Jerusalem in 2010 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

The Palestinians have spurned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest invitation to resume peace talks, insisting Israel freeze settlement construction first.

Netanyahu on Wednesday proposed to start direct talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, without any preconditions. The call followed an appeal from international mediators for constructive efforts. Negotiations broke down in late 2010.

Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said on Thursday that Abbas is ready for talks only if Israel halts settlement construction and accepts its 1967 boundaries as the basis for negotiations. Otherwise, he says, any negotiations will “waste time.”

The ‘Quartet’ of Mideast peacemakers appealed Wednesday for Israel and the Palestinians to take confidence-building steps to improve the atmosphere for negotiations.

Meeting in Washington on Wednesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also called for the international community to help the Palestinians meet their budget needs.

In a statement, they expressed concern about the “increasing fragility” of the Palestinian Authority, which needs $1.1 billion in financial aid, and called on the two sides to work together to improve Palestinian governance and expand economic opportunities for the Palestinian people.

Israel welcomed the Quartet’s call for direct talks without preconditions between Israel and the Palestinians, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement on Wednesday. Netanyahu, who is scheduled to meet his Palestinian counterpart, Salam Fayyad, next Tuesday, said he would propose to upgrade the level of the talks to direct and speak directly with Abbas, according to the statement.

The Quartet urged both Israel and the Palestinians to refrain from actions that could undermine trust and peace prospects. Instead it urged them to “focus on positive efforts that can strengthen and improve the climate for a resumption of direct negotiations.”

The Quartet condemned rocket attacks on Israel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. And the group “expressed concern about unilateral and provocative actions by either party, including continued settlement activity, which cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations, the only way to a just and durable solution to the conflict.”

Previous peace talks broke down in 2010 and, despite low-level contacts between the two sides in Jordan in January, have not resumed.

The meeting between Netanyahu and Fayyad next week will be the highest level talks between the sides in a year and a half.

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