JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday rejected a Palestinian
demand that direct negotiations be based on a statement by the Quartet
confirming its position that the future Palestinian state will be based
on the 1967 borders.
Meeting in Jerusalem with U.S. envoy George Mitchell, Netanyahu
repeated his demand for the renewal of direct talks without
preconditions. Mitchell briefed Netanyahu on his meeting on Tuesday with
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and gave the prime
minister the Palestinian proposal.
According to Palestinian sources, Mitchell did not dismiss Abbas'
proposal. Abbas is demanding a clear framework for the direct talks and
an Israeli commitment to cease construction activity in the settlement
during the negotiations.
The Quartet - the United States, the United Nations, the European
Union and Russia - issued the statement after a meeting in Moscow on
March 19. It calls for 24 months of talks between Israel and the PA that
would result in an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian
The statement said that the founding of the Palestinian state would
end the occupation that began in 1967. It also called on Israel to
institute a total freeze of construction in West Bank settlements and to
refrain from home demolitions in East Jerusalem. The declaration even
went so far as to mention that the international community does not
recognize Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem.
Senior officials in Jerusalem who are involved in the efforts to
renew direct peace talks said yesterday that Abbas' latest formula was
unacceptable to Netanyahu because it sought to impose preconditions that
the Israeli public would oppose.
Mitchell told Netanyahu that Washington has not taken a position on
the proposal yet, noting that his job was simply to present Abbas' offer
to Israeli. The U.S. envoy told Netanyahu that Abbas indicated to him
that if Israel were to accept the offer, he would be ready to enter
direct talks immediately.
After Netanyahu's rejection, it appears that Mitchell's latest visit to the region has ended in failure.
According to Palestinian sources, the United States rejected two
earlier proposals put forth by Abbas to jump-start direct talks. One
called for U.S., Israeli and Palestinian officials to meet in order to
reach agreement on a framework for direct talks. The other called for
U.S. President Barack Obama to issue a statement spelling out the terms
of the framework.
Palestinian journalists who met with Abbas this week said they came
away with the impression that he is determined to move forward in
negotiations with Israel but will not back down on long-established
Palestinian positions. Despite international criticism of his refusal to
begin negotiations, Abbas is insistent on an agreed framework for
discussions prior to the start of direct talks.
An editorial in yesterday's New York Times urged Abbas to renew talks
with Israel, warning him to avoid a clash with Obama, who is keen to
see the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
In his meeting with Palestinian journalists Abbas urged them to meet
with their Israeli colleagues, after the main journalists' union in the
West Bank failed in its campaign to boycott all contacts with Israeli
reporters. Abbas told the Palestinian reporters it was important for
them to continue their dialogue with Israeli journalists.