Israel believes that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s willingness to meet Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu may be a ploy meant at buying time so he can make more unilateral moves at the United Nations, officials said Tuesday.
The officials spoke to Channel 2 News a day after reports that said Abbas has caved in to pressure from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and has agreed to meet Netanyahu.
Abbas reportedly told his associates that he would be willing to meet Netanyahu, but only for a limited time period in order to test the seriousness of the Prime Minister’s intentions to reach a peace agreement.
Ma’ariv reported on Tuesday that in order to help kickstart the negotiations, Netanyahu has agreed to release some terror prisoners who have been in jail since before the signing of the Oslo Accords and also pass a formal decision in the Cabinet freezing Jewish construction outside of the settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria.
Abbas, reported the newspaper, has agreed in exchange to drop two of his preconditions on talks with Israel: that talks be based on the 1949 Armistice lines and that borders for a PA state be sketched in advance of the negotiations.
An unnamed senior Israeli official told Channel 2 News, however, that Israel was unaware of any agreement by Abbas to give up his preconditions. The official said that Israel is aware, however, that Abbas is planning to attend the UN General Assembly in September and launch yet another unilateral move.
According to the official, Abbas is trying to "prepare the ground" for his unilateral move, and as such has expressed willingness to go along with Kerry’s efforts to resume peace talks for a limited time period.
Since 2010, Abbas has refused to directly talk to Netanyahu, insisting instead on a full construction freeze in Judea and Samaria as one of his endless preconditions for negotiations with Israel. A previous 10-month freeze failed to lure Abbas to the negotiating table; he agreed to talk shortly before the freeze was scheduled to end, but broke off talks immediately when it was not extended.
Last week Abbas said he supports Kerry's efforts to revive peace talks with Israel. Kerry will return to the Middle East on Thursday, with a stop in Jordan before making his fifth visit to meet Israeli and PA leaders.
Netanyahu has consistently called on Abbas to return to the negotiating table without preconditions. Last week he told The Washington Post, “If Secretary Kerry, whose efforts we support, were to pitch a tent halfway between here and Ramallah — that’s 15 minutes away driving time — I’m in it, I’m in the tent. And I’m committed to stay in the tent and negotiate for as long as it takes to work out a solution of peace and security between us and the Palestinians.