Sides are trying to save peace talks, PA negotiator says

Saeb Erekat tells Israeli TV that negotiations will ‘crash’ unless Netanyahu negotiates based on 1967 borders

Yifa Yaakov is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat (Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat (Miriam Alster/Flash90/File)

Israeli and Palestinian officials expressed a desire to return to peace talks Sunday, albeit with each side saying the ball was in the other’s court to revive the 8-month-old negotiations.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said it was up to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “stand tall,” and agree to negotiate based on the 1967 borders.

“I don’t think it’s in the interest of Israel to have a crash, it’s absolutely not in our interest to have a crash, it’s not in the interest of the US,” he told Israel’s Channel 2 on Sunday, adding that the sides were “trying to save” the peace talks.

“Does [Netanyahu] want to go the path of punishment, showing them who’s strong or not, or does he want to make history by going the path of [the] two-state solution?” Erekat asked, referring to media reports that Israel would impose sanctions on the Palestinians should talks fall apart.

Earlier in the day, Netanyahu told his cabinet that Israel was willing to continue talking. But he warned that Israel would not negotiate under any conditions.

“Unilateral steps on their part will be met with unilateral steps on our part,” Netanyahu said. “We are ready to continue the talks but not at any price.”

Erekat said he believed Israel had seriously misinterpreted Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s move to apply to 15 international treaty organizations for membership, which Jerusalem said was tantamount to breaching the terms of the negotiations by applying to UN-related bodies.

Erekat also said Israel had continuously compromised the talks by failing to demonstrate a genuine commitment to peace.

“Abbas did not sign for 50 suicide bombers to go to Israel, he did not sign to shoot at Israelis, President Abbas signed conventions to protect women’s rights, human rights, children’s rights, the rule of law … elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, [and] respecting religious rights,” Erekat said, stating that this move was hardly grounds for “punishment” by Netanyahu.

Following last week’s breakdown, US Secretary of State John Kerry voiced impatience with all sides, saying the US would re-evaluate its role as a mediator.

Still, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were expected to meet late Sunday with US mediator Martin Indyk in a bid to get the talks back on track.

Both sides have engaged in finger-pointing since talks appeared to break down last week.

On Sunday, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh accused Israel of taking “unilateral steps to thwart the peace process,” according to a report by the Palestinian Ma’an news outlet.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, one of the most outspoken proponents of negotiations with the Palestinians, wrote on his Facebook page Friday that the Palestinians’ actions had put the talks in danger.

“Abbas’s “conduct over the past 24 hours raises serious doubt about whether he is really interested in reaching an agreement,” wrote Lapid, whose party is the second largest in Netanyahu’s coalition.

On Sunday, Erekat insisted that the Palestinian negotiating team was making persistent efforts to save the peace process. Abbas, he said, had already agreed to recognize Israel and its right to exist in peace and security in the 1967 borders, side-by-side with a Palestinian state. He had even agreed to land swaps and, the demilitarization of the Palestinian state and the presence of third-party observers, as well as a “just and agreed solution” to the issue of Palestinian refugees.

“What else do we have to give you?” Erekat asked, denouncing Israeli leaders for failing to “say a word” to the Israeli public in support of the two-state solution.

“It’s about needs. I’m not doing Israelis a favor when I say I want a ‘soft landing.’ I want to reach an agreement with them. I’m doing my people the favor – the Palestinians need peace more than anybody else. Nobody stands to lose more from the failure of this process than the Palestinians, and no one stands to gain more from the success of this peace process than the Palestinians. And I hope and pray that the Israelis will feel the same way.”

Erekat said that in the latest round of talks, restarted by Kerry in July, Washington had done “what nobody has done before” in terms of the “commitment, efforts, investments” Kerry and Indyk had made in the process.

Times of Israel staff and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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