The PLO leadership decided in principle Thursday to return to peace talks with Israel on condition that the American invitation to such talks specifies that the negotiations will be for the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 lines, a senior Palestinian source told The Times of Israel on Thursday evening.
The source was speaking soon after meetings of the PLO’s Central Committee with President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. The Palestinian leadership decided that other longstanding pre-conditions for resumed talks, including the release of pre-Oslo Palestinian prisoners and a freeze to settlement building, could be dealt with after such an invitation was received, the official added.
Palestinian media reports indicated that a formal Palestinian decision would be forthcoming on Friday morning. The reports said the meetings in Ramallah had been heated, but that Abbas had decided in principle to come back to the negotiating table. Palestinian news sources reported Thursday evening that most Palestinian factions oppose the resumption of negotiations with Israel under the conditions outlined by Kerry.
Channel 2 news said Thursday evening that the Palestinians were dismayed that US Secretary of State John Kerry’s current framework for talks did not specify negotiations on the basis of the pre-67 lines or require a settlement freeze. The report added, however, that a possible path of compromise could involve Kerry inviting the parties to talks on the basis of principles set out by the US but not necessarily accepted by the two sides.
The TV report said Kerry might shuttle to Ramallah and Jerusalem on Friday to try to conclude an agreement on new talks.
Channel 2 also said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-winning coalition elements were not threatening a coalition crisis, because they doubted any dramatic breakthrough was imminent. Nonetheless, Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, of the nationalist-religious Jewish Home, said his party would not remain in the government “for a second” if there was agreement to negotiations on the basis of the pre-1967 lines, and that Jerusalem must never be redivided.
The reports and comments came amid some confusion over whether a return to the negotiating table was imminent. A US State Department official said earlier Thursday that there were no plans to announce a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, after the Israeli government denied that it agreed to base new talks on the 1967 lines.
“There are currently no plans for an announcement for the resumption of negotiations,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in Amman, on the last full day of Kerry’s visit to the Middle East, his sixth in recent weeks.
Both sides have been indicating that they are leaning toward resuming negotiations.
Earlier in the day, a senior Israeli source said Netanyahu had agreed to resume negotiations with the Palestinians based on the 1967 lines, according to a Reuters report. But that assertion was quickly dismissed by Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev, who said it was untrue.
Palestinian Authority President Abbas, for his part, had agreed to a formulation that would acknowledge the Jewish nature of Israel, according to the Reuters report.
President Shimon Peres on Thursday said Kerry was on the brink of success in his ongoing effort to resume talks.
“From the latest information at my disposal, Secretary Kerry has succeeded in advancing the chance for opening peace talks,” said Peres. “I am grateful for his efforts and I know that the endeavor is a serious one. The coming days are crucial and we are within reach.
“I believe that the significant effort will bear fruit on both the Israeli and the Palestinian side — both parties are making an effort to overcome the final obstacles,” he continued.
Indications that the Palestinians might return to the negotiating table first emerged earlier Thursday when senior Palestinian officials told the Arab press that the Palestinians would likely announce they were ready to resume talks with Israel.
The officials said that Netanyahu has agreed to a partial settlement freeze and is willing to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 lines. The freeze would not apply to Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs, the reports said. The reported progress came after a five-hour dinner meeting Wednesday night between Kerry and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Thus far, Abbas has refused to negotiate unless Israel halts all construction in West Bank settlements, which it last did in 2009. Recently, Israel has rejected Palestinian demands for a blanket freeze, saying negotiations should resume without the imposition of Palestinian preconditions. Kerry has offered the Palestinians a package of economic incentives worth $4 billion to restart the talks.
Reportedly, the US upped pressure on the Palestinians to agree to talks during the five-hour dinner meeting, with Kerry threatening to hold up American economic aid to the PA if Abbas continued to refuse to come to the table. He also demanded a yes or no answer from Abbas as to whether he would negotiate with Netanyahu when all the outstanding issues are up for discussion, while reportedly informing him that the Israeli prime minister had agreed to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 lines, and would announce this publicly.
In his comments to foreign journalists, Peres also criticized Tuesday’s European Union decision that denies European funding to, and cooperation with, Israeli institutions based or operating over the Green Line, and stipulates that all future agreements between Israel and the EU to include a clause in which Israel accepts the European Union’s position that all territory over the Green Line does not belong to Israel.
“The relations between Israel and the European Union are friendly,” said Peres, “and I have great respect for the European Union — I turn to our friends in Europe and say, ‘Wait with your decision — make peace a priority. Don’t put in place irresponsible sanctions which will damage the peace process.'”
He denounced the EU decision as “unnecessary and untimely,” and charged that it “could lead to another crisis to our region.”