x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

PA meeting with Israel mired with confusion

A delegation of Palestinian officials deliver a letter of grievance to Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in a bid to pressure him back to the negotiating table.

JERUSALEM // A delegation of Palestinian officials delivered a letter of grievance yesterday to Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in a bid to pressure him back to the negotiating table.

Saeb Erekat, a senior negotiator, and another Palestinian official handed the missive to the Israeli premier and his chief peace negotiator, Yitzhak Molcho, during the highest-level meeting between the two sides in almost two years.

The letter, reportedly signed by the Palestinian Authority (PA) president, Mahmoud Abbas, asks Mr Netanyahu to reiterate his previous support for the creation of a Palestinian state. It also warns that the PA risks losing political legitimacy because of, among other things, Israel’s refusal to stop building Jewish settlements.

“It was a serious meeting,” Mr Erekat said, accoring to Agence France-Presse. “Netanyahu will study the letter seriously and answer it within two weeks.”

A statement released afterwards by Mr Netanyahu’s office said that both sides “are committed to reaching peace” and that the Israeli leader would send Mr Abbas his own letter to “find the way to advance peace”.

The meeting, which lasted about an hour, also was mired in confusion. Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA), declined to attend even though Mr Abbas reportedly requested that he hand-deliver the message.

An aide to Mr Fayyad, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to say why the Palestinian prime minister did not accompany the delegation.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s Executive Committee, also refused to speculate why Mr Fayyad did not show up. She added that the letter represented a “last-ditch effort by President Abbas to rescue the two-state solution”.

Whether Mr Fayyad’s decision to forego the planned meeting stemmed from differences among the Palestinian leadership or from discouraging signals from the Israeli side was not immediately clear.

The meeting was the first such interaction between Israeli and Palestinian officials since the last round of formal negotiations, in late 2010, collapsed shortly after they started.

The content of Mr Abbas’s letter has been the source of much speculation recently. In previous drafts, the Palestinian president reportedly threatened to dismantle the PA because of frustration with Mr Netanyahu and the policies of his right-wing, pro-settlement government.

Due to pressure from the Obama administration in the US, however, Mr Abbas toned down the language and omitted the threat.

A draft of the letter, obtained by the Times of Israel, an English-language news website, calls on Israel to release Palestinian prisoners and agree to negotiate on the basis of the borders that prevailed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

It also warns that Israeli settlement building and general Israeli intransigence have created a situation in which the PA has “lost its reason d’être” in terms of “jurisdiction in the political, economic, social, territorial and security spheres” in Palestinian areas of the West Bank.

Palestinian officials have become increasingly dismayed at Israel’s refusal to compromise on a number of key issues in the peace process. The 2010 negotiations collapsed because Mr Netanyahu refused to stop building settlements.

That has generated tremendous pressure on Palestinian leaders, who fear that the Palestinian public views them as overly cooperative with Israel, especially when it comes to security coordination. Joint Israel-PA security cooperation has led to the arrest of scores of Palestinians in the West Bank.

hnaylor@thenational.ae

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