Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Cabinet at the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday that he will restart talks with the Palestinian Authority in the near future. Netanyahu said talks could resume by the end of September.
His announcement came shortly before a scheduled meeting with United States Middle East envoy George Mitchell in Britain. Netanyahu expressed optimism regarding the meeting with Mitchell. Talks with the U.S. are taking place in a “positive atmosphere,” he said. While Israel and America have yet to reach complete agreement, “we are attempting to close the gaps,” he told the cabinet.
Relations between Israel and the U.S. were tense earlier in the year as American officials pushed Israel to forbid Jews to build in Judea, Samaria and parts of Jerusalem, while Israeli officials insisted that building be allowed to continue. Netanyahu has apparently solved the problem by giving in to the American request, and freezing construction in Judea and Samaria communities housing a total of approximately 350,000 Jews.
Despite the building freeze, and Netanyahu's stated hope of returning to the negotiating table, PA leaders said Sunday that the return to Israel-PA talks was not at all certain. Saeb Erekat, a senior PA negotiator, accused Netanyahu of “undermining and frustrating efforts” to reach a deal and "threatening the two-state solution" by allowing Jews to continue to build throughout Jerusalem.
The PA rejects Israel's sovereignty in Jerusalem neighborhoods that fell under Jordanian control between 1948 and 1967, and insists that those areas be given to the PA as the capital of a new Arab state. The fact that Jews continue to live and build in those neighborhoods thwarts the peace process, Erekat claimed.