Both Abbas’s spokesmen say no deal yet to restart talks

Contradicting Kerry, Ramallah says path to negotiations not cleared, insists basis for discussions must be pre-1967 lines

Palestinians demonstrate in front of the Palestine Liberation Organization offices in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on July 15, as they protest against secret meetings between officials from the PLO and Israel. (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/FLASH90)
Palestinians demonstrate in front of the Palestine Liberation Organization offices in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on July 15, as they protest against secret meetings between officials from the PLO and Israel. (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/FLASH90)

A senior Palestinian official said the path to formal negotiations with Israel is still blocked, adding his voice to those of a number of other Palestinian leaders denying that agreement has been reached for US-brokered peace talks to resume.

Contradicting Secretary of State John Kerry, spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said in a statement late Sunday that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to send a delegate to Washington merely to continue lower-level preliminary talks with an Israeli counterpart about the terms for negotiations.

A second Abbas spokesman, Yasser Abed Rabbo, had made similar comments earlier Sunday. Abu Rudeineh and Abed Rabbo are the only Palestinian officials authorized to speak on the matter.

Unnamed American sources quoted in the Israeli media on Monday, however, indicated that the talks would indeed resume shortly — “no later than August 4,” according to a report in Yedioth Ahronoth. At the start of the first session, this report said, Kerry would read out his proposal “for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and specify the pre-67 lines as the basis for negotiation on Palestinian statehood. Kerry, it said, would also note that land swaps based on the pre-67 lines would be on a one-for-one ratio. In other words, any adjustment to the pre-67 lines enabling Israel to expand sovereignty into the West Bank would be offset by an equivalent-sized Israeli territorial concession to the Palestinians from Israeli sovereign territory.

In Amman on Friday, Kerry announced that “We have reached an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming negotiations,” and that he was looking forward “to seeing my friends from this region in Washington next week” or shortly after. He specified that top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Netanyahu’s envoy Isaac Molho would come to the US to restart the talks.

But Abu Rudeineh said for actual peace talks to resume, Israel must first accept the pre-1967 lines as a baseline for negotiations on a Palestinian state and halt settlement building — familiar Palestinian preconditions which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has consistently rejected.

Abu Rudeineh said the Washington talks are meant to “overcome the obstacles that still stand in the way of launching negotiations.”

Earlier on Sunday, senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Abed Rabbo and Fatah Central Committee member Mohammed Ishtayeh also indicated that the US was premature in announcing the resumption of peace talks, after a three-year hiatus. Netanyahu confirmed in a statement on Saturday night and again to his cabinet on Sunday that the talks were indeed to resume.

Abed Rabbo told Palestinian radio that the PA leadership was currently engaged in dialogue with the American administration, and would only announce the resumption of negotiations depending on the outcome of those talks.

He said a number of issues were still pending for talks between Israelis and Palestinians in Washington later in the week, during which a framework for negotiations would be created, he added.

According to Fatah Central Command member Abbas Zaki, speaking to Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood newspaper As-Sabeel, the Palestinian delegation set to head for Washington later this week was not tasked with relaunching negotiations. “The visit is nothing more than consultations; it has nothing to do with launching negotiations,” he added.

All these comments, which directly contradict Kerry’s upbeat announcement of a Palestinian agreement to resume talks, reflect an atmosphere of deep Palestinian skepticism regarding the prospect of negotiations with Israel.

An op-ed Sunday in the official Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam dubbed US Secretary of State John Kerry “a master of self-deception,” claiming that both sides agreed to meet in Washington only to please the American official, knowing that nothing of substance would come of the talks.

Another Palestinian official, Fatah Central Committee member Mohammed Ishtayeh, said in a press release Sunday that negotiations could only resume following an Israeli commitment to recognize the 1967 lines as the basis for a future Palestinian state, to release prisoners, and to freeze building in the settlements.

Confusion has grown since Kerry’s announcement, with some Palestinian officials claiming Kerry gave Abbas a letter guaranteeing that the talks would be held on the basis of the pre-1967 lines, and a Western official telling The New York Times on Saturday that there would be no Israeli recognition of the 1967 lines as a basis for talks.

Israeli ministers said at the weekend that the government had held firm to its insistence on there being no preconditions for resuming the negotiations, while Abbas had given ground. According to the ministers, the talks would resume without Israel agreeing to a settlement freeze, without Israel agreeing to negotiations for a Palestinian state on the basis of the pre-1967 lines, and without there first being a release of longtime Palestinian prisoners. Still, Israel would release Palestinian prisoners — up to 350, including more than 80 pre-Oslo accords “serious” terrorists, according to some sources — in phases as the talks continued, they said.

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