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Abbas Opens Door for Netanyahu after Snubbing New Government

Abbas called Netanyahu on Sunday, two weeks after leaving the lines of communication shut by not congratulating him on his taking the helm.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 4/12/2009, 10:06 PM

Israel News Photo

Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas phoned Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu on Sunday in the first conversation between the two leaders. After Prime Minister Netanyahu took office last month, Abbas did not take the customary move to congratulate him and instead told media that he demands that Israel fulfill his conditions before resuming negotiations for a new Arab state on the land of Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

Abbas said talks must be based on Prime Minister Netanyahu's accepting the "two-state solution," which he has refused to do, a halt to construction in all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and a commitment to accept previous agreements.

In the meantime, Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have spoken directly to leaders of the Quartet - the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - to win backing for the PA conditions.

The PA condition for accepting existing agreements includes the Annapolis, Maryland conference, where no formal document was signed but an agreement was reached to continue negotiations for the establishment of a new Arab country.

After having prepared diplomatic groundwork with Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair, Abbas called the prime minister on Sunday and extended him Passover greetings with a wish for advancing peace. The Israeli leader said the conversation was friendly.

Prime Minister Netanyahu in turn "recalled their past cooperation and conversations, and how he intended to resume this in the future in order to advance peace." Netanyahu was Prime Minister from 1996 to 1999 before his government fell, leading to elections that were won by Labor party chairman Ehud Barak, who now is the Defense Minister in the new coalition government.

Abbas two weeks ago charged that the new Prime Minister is against peace.

Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, shortly after taking office, promptly dismissed the Annapolis conference as "dead," the same term that was used last year by Marwan Barghouti, the PA terrorist who is serving multiple life terms in prison and who is considered the most popular figure among PA Arabs.

Neither Abbas, Prime Minister Netanyahu nor Foreign Minister Lieberman have changed their official positions, but all of them are anxious to put forward a positive image prior to the expected arrival this week of George Mitchell, President Barack Obama' special envoy for talks between PA and Israel.