Netanyahu mulls gestures toward Palestinians to keep peace talks going
PM expects Abbas to continue peace talks and to refrain from pursuing UN statehood in return for Israel's confidence-building measures.
At the request of American and Jordanian authorities, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering several confidence-building measures vis-a-vis the Palestinians. In return, the prime minister expects Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to continue the talks that began in Jordan a week ago, and to refrain from pursuing statehood at the United Nations.
Netanyahu's envoy Isaac Molho and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat met for the second time in Amman on Monday. Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and representatives of the Quartet - the United States, Russia, the UN and the European Union - also attended the meeting.
The prime minister's aides refused to give details of the talks but said another meeting is scheduled before the end of January.
Two Israeli sources familiar with the talks said the United States, Jordan and Quartet members were focusing their main efforts on preventing the recently resumed talks from being derailed. Their aim is to keep the parties talking after the three months allocated for discussions of border and security arrangements end on January 26.
In coordination with the Quartet, the Jordanians had invited the parties to three rounds of talks before the end of January. Immediately after the first meeting last week, the Jordanians announced that another meeting had been scheduled, thereby creating a sense of momentum. In the same way, after the second meeting on Monday, a third meeting was announced for next week.
One of the Israeli sources says Quartet members intend to make a statement at the end of the month, saying they are pleased with the progress of the talks so far. Assuming neither side would be able to refuse, the Quartet plans to call on the parties to continue talking for a few more months, according to the source. "The Americans want to get as close as they can to the presidential elections in November in this way," he said.
To persuade the Palestinians to continue the talks, Jordan, the United States and Quartet envoy Tony Blair told the Palestinian delegation that Israel would take confidence-building measures, the other source said.
Quartet representatives say the gestures, which they call a "stabilizing package," consist of freeing Palestinian prisoners, expanding the Palestinian Authority's control in additional West Bank territories, and other similar measures.
Netanyahu has already promised to consider such concessions favorably at least three times in the past three years, but he reneged every time with various excuses.
"The aim is to lock the Palestinians in the talks and give them a few sweets in return," one of the Israeli sources said. "Netanyahu and his advisers are willing to take these steps, but only if it is clear that the Palestinians will stick with the talks and won't go to the UN."
Netanyahu and his aides are sure the Palestinans will not be able to leave talks at the end of January, despite their threats, due to their commitment to Jordan's King Abdullah.
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