Palestinian PM boycotts meeting with Netanyahu


PALESTINIAN PRIME minister Salam Fayyad has boycotted a scheduled meeting with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in a further sign of the deep divisions between the sides.

The meeting, held at Mr Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem, was to have been the highest-level contact between the sides in more than a year and a half, and was billed as an attempt to breathe new life into the moribund peace process.

Palestinian officials said Mr Fayyad’s last-minute decision to boycott the meeting was due to his reluctance to publicly engage with the Israelis on the same day the Palestinians observed Prisoners’ Day, a day of solidarity with Palestinian detainees held in Israeli jails.

Negotiator Saeb Erekat, together with Palestinian intelligence chief Gen Majdad Faraj, handed the Israeli team a letter from Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas outlining Palestinian principles for the resumption of peace talks.

According to Palestinian media reports, the letter set three key conditions: that an agreement on a Palestinian state will be based on 1967 borders with land swaps; a settlement construction freeze in the West Bank and Jerusalem; and the release of all Palestinian prisoners jailed before the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993.

However, Mr Netanyahu has already rejected the Palestinian demands, insisting on the resumption of direct negotiations without preconditions.

Israel also believes a face-to-face meeting between Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas is the best way to break the deadlock.

Israeli chief negotiator Yitzhak Molcho is expected to meet Mr Abbas later this month and hand him a letter with Israel’s response.

According to Israeli officials, the letter will detail security arrangements deemed necessary for a peace deal, but will avoid setting preconditions.

A statement released after yesterday’s talks said that “Israel and the Palestinian Authority are committed to peace”. However, expectations on both sides were low that the gaps could be bridged.

The Palestinians have indicated that without a breakthrough they may renew their unilateral bid for United Nations recognition of statehood.

A Palestinian attempt last year to win the approval of the UN Security Council failed, and Washington has made clear its opposition to a renewed bid at the UN general assembly.

Direct peace talks collapsed in late 2010 after a limited Israeli settlement freeze expired. Early this year, the sides held low-level talks under Jordanian mediation, but they stalled in continued disagreement over the settlement issue.

Israel says the future of settlements, which the Palestinians and many countries regard as illegal, should be decided in peace negotiations.