Benjamin Netanyahu and Saeb Erekat - GPO - 17.4.2012
Benjamin Netanyahu greeting a Palestinian delegation headed by chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat in Jerusalem, April 17, 2012 Photo by GPO
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Tuesday at his official residence in Jerusalem with senior Palestinian officials, who gave him a letter from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the stalemate in the peace process. Although PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was expected to participate in the meeting, in the end, he did not come.

The prospect that Fayyad would not take part in the meeting with Netanyahu was a source of major embarrassment on the Palestinian side over the past two days. Abbas had previously announced publicly that Fayyad would attend, in part to underline the importance of the letter that was being delivered to the Israeli prime minister. For his part, however, Fayyad opposed an exchange of letters, contending that it would not produce results.

Netanyahu and his advisers have given their initial consideration to the letter from Abbas, which was more than five pages long and written in English. Their first impression was said to be that the document contained no new messages but also did not contain an explicit threat by the Palestinians to dissolve the PA in light of the current stalemate. Most of the contents of the letter had been published in various media outlets over the past several weeks.

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Fayyad indicated to Abbas, who has been on a tour of Asian nations, that he did not intend to take part in the meeting with Netanyahu. Nonetheless, Saeb Erekat, who heads the Palestinian negotiating team, continued telling journalists, even hours before the meeting, that Fayyad would be there. A senior Israeli official said the Palestinian decision on who would meet with Netanyahu was their internal issue.

Ultimately, it was Erekat who stood in for Fayyad. He was joined at the meeting by Palestinian general intelligence chief Majed Faraj. On the Israeli side, Netanyahu was joined by his special envoy Isaac Molho. The talks lasted an hour and 20 minutes and were followed by a joint statement expressing the two sides' commitment to achieving peace. The parties also agreed that Molho would meet Abbas in Ramallah within the next two weeks, when he would provide Israel's response to the Palestinian letter.

The response is expected to contain Israel's stance on the borders of a future Palestinian state and security arrangements Israel would demand as part of any peace agreement. The response will also stress that Israel expects a final settlement of the conflict to include Palestinian recognition of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

On a visit to Colombia, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told his host, President Juan Manuel Santos, that Israel expects the Palestinians to enter into genuine peace negotiations. However, in Larnaca, Cyprus, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Cypriot President Demitris Christofias that that Abbas was not interested in an agreement.