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Palestinians said to assemble new peace negotiating team at initiative of US

Report says the Biden administration began effort to revive talks before Israel’s new government was sworn in; PA said set to demand expansion of its authority in West Bank

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed, Pool)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed, Pool)

The Palestinians have assembled a new team of negotiators, with the encouragement of the United States, for renewed peace talks with Israel, according to a television report Tuesday as the new Israeli government settled into office.

Citing a “senior official in Ramallah,” the West Bank city where the Palestinian Authority is based, Channel 12 news said the PA negotiating team was set to demand an extension of the PA’s authority in the West Bank as part of talks brokered by US President Joe Biden’s administration. Nobody on the reported team was named.

The demands were said to include blocking Israel Defense Forces soldiers from entering Area A of the West Bank, which is under the full control of the PA, and to have expanded authority — including on security issues — in Areas B and C. The PA has civil control in Area B, while Israel has security control. Israel maintains control over both civil and security matters in Area C.

The PA was also reportedly to demand other unspecified “trust-building measures” aimed at maintaining the viability of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

From right to left: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend the first cabinet meeting of the new government, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The report said the US had already begun working on the initiative before longtime prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was ousted from office on Sunday, when a government headed by Naftali Bennett, in a power-sharing deal with Yair Lapid, was sworn in.

The Palestinians reportedly sped up their efforts to get ready for potential peace talks after it became clear to them a government not led by Netanyahu could be formed.

According to the network, the PA is hoping the talks will be led by Foreign Minister Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, both centrists, rather than the right-wing Bennett, an opponent of the two-state solution who has previously called for Israel to annex Area C.

US President Joe Biden speaks ahead of the G-7 summit in St. Ives, England, June 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

The report came after Gantz spoke with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier Tuesday, with Gantz’s office saying he told the Pentagon chief that he would work to strengthen the PA, echoing remarks he has made since last month’s 11-day military conflict with the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group. Gantz also spoke with Austin on Sunday after the new government was sworn in.

In a congratulatory phone call on Sunday with Bennett, Biden “conveyed that his administration intends to work closely with the Israeli government on efforts to advance peace, security, and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians,” according to the White House.

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