Bibi Wants Face-to-Face Meeting With Abbas
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will seek direct talks with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas when he meets PA prime minister Salam Fayyad next week.
Netanyahu will hold a rare face-to-face meeting with Fayyad and two other senior officials from Ramallah in Jerusalem on April 17.
It will be the first top-level meeting between leaders in Jerusalem and Ramallah since talks hit a dead end over two years ago.
According to his office, Netanyahu will propose "raising the level of talks" and holding face-to-face negotiations with Abbas.
"At his meeting next week with the Palestinian delegation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will propose raising the level of the talks to conduct them directly with Abu Mazen," it said, using Abbas's nom-de-guerre.
"This message will also be passed on through his personal envoy, the lawyer Yitzhak Molcho, who is expected to meet with Abu Mazen and hand him a letter with Israel's position on a future agreement with the Palestinians," the PMO said.
Fayyad is expected to use the rare meeting to personally deliver a letter from Abbas in which he lays out his conditions for returning to direct negotiations.
In the letter, Abbas is expected to say the PA will only return to negotiations if Israel agrees to accept the indefensible pre-1967 lines as a PA state's future borders and halt construction in the 'disputed territories.'
Fayyad will be accompanied by negotiator Saeb Erekat and Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
Israeli officials have long accused their PA counterparts of using preconditions as a fait accompli to forestall talks that would require them to make hard choices and comrpomises to achieve peace.
They also note that a previous construction freeze in Judea and Samaria by Israel aimed at meeting PA demands was rebuffed and met with additional preconditions - and Abbas' failed unilateral statehood bid at the United Nations Security Council last September.
Netanyahu is also preparing his own letter for Abbas, which will be handed to the PA chairman by Molcho when the two next meet, although a date for that meeting has not yet been announced.
In the letter, Netanyahu will clarify Israel's position on reaching an agreement, which will likely include a call for a resumption of direct negotiations without preconditions.
Last week, Erekat and Molcho met to discuss Abbas's letter in what was the first time the two sides had met since January when they held five rounds of exploratory talks in a bid to seek ways of reviving direct negotiations.
But the meetings, which were sponsored by the Quartet – the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States – ended without any agreement to continue talking.
The last time Abbas and Netanyahu met was at the end of September 2010, just weeks after the peace process was relaunched to great fanfare at a ceremony at the White House.
The PA chairman has threatened to turn to the United Nations General Assembly if Netanyahu does not acquiesce to the demands contained in the letter Fayyad will deliver next week.
Critics say Netanyahu's government has failed to adapt to a new paradigm in which PLO officials pursue a unilateral track while forestalling bilateral talks with unacceptable preconditions.
In December 2011, PLO officials announced "a strategy based on continuous efforts along with the international community to secure full recognition and full United Nations membership, pursuing internal reconciliation, and keeping up the popular resistance."