U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented a new proposal for resuming the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Sunday, in a meeting the two held before Kerry left the country, a senior Israeli official said.
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The official said the proposal included principles and formulas for renewing the negotiations and a list of gestures Israel is prepared to make both before and after the talks resume.
The new package Kerry presented to Abbas was the product of a six-hour meeting Kerry held Saturday night with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and their aides that ended at 3:30 A.M. The senior official refused to elaborate on the contents of the proposal, but stressed that the Palestinians had not yet given the Americans their response.
Palestinian sources close to the talks between Abbas and Kerry have told Haaretz that Abbas and his colleagues are highly suspicious of Netanyahu and therefore have no intention to give in to pressure and enter into a negotiating process that will simply produce talks but not address Palestinian demands.
One Palestinian source said the general feeling among the Palestinians is that the Americans have a deep understanding of the Palestinian position. The Palestinians have therefore refrained from making any declarations at this stage other than the statement by the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Saeb Erekat, that Kerry had not achieved a breakthrough in efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. "The Palestinians made their position clear, on all key issues, borders, settlements and the answers received from Israel are more goodwill gestures and vague wording," the Palestinian source said.
It should also be noted that, despite all of the authority that President Abbas has, the decision to renew the peace talks is not solely up to him and his negotiating team. A senior member of Abbas' Fatah faction told Haaretz that the Palestinian street is highly pessimistic about negotiations with Israel, making the Palestinian Authority wary of announcing a resumption of talks that may ultimately not produce results, as was the case in prior rounds.
"Abbas has a mandate to carry out contacts with Kerry and anyone who can be involved on the international level," the source said, "but Abbas cannot take decisions related to changes or concessions over principles that were set as the basis for the renewal of negotiations without getting back, first and foremost, to the institutions of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Fatah. Such a thing could lead to a head-on confrontation with the street and no one is interested in that."
According to the Israeli official, the proposal Kerry presented to Abbas was meant to have been discussed Sunday night at a meeting between Kerry’s advisers, Frank Lowenstein and Jonathan Schwartz, and Erekat. The two Kerry aides are scheduled to meet on Monday with Livni, who is the government minister responsible for talks with the Palestinians, and Netanyahu’s special envoy, Isaac Molcho, to update them on how the Palestinians respond to the new proposal.
“We’ve made progress in recent days, but we are still seeking understandings that will enable us to resume negotiations,” the senior Israeli official said.
Kerry left Israel Sunday after four days of shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah, saying he believed that the resumption of talks between Israel and the Palestinians was “within reach.”
Kerry is expected to return to the region shortly, perhaps as soon as next week, to continue his efforts to restart the peace process.
Though Kerry did not achieve the breakthrough he’d hoped for that would enable the convening of a summit to relaunch the talks, he sounded optimistic during a press conference at Ben-Gurion Airport.
“I ... know progress when I see it, and we are making progress,” Kerry told reporters before departing to Brunei for an Asian security summit. “We started out with very wide gaps and we have narrowed those considerably. We have some specific details and work to pursue but I am absolutely confident that we are on the right track.”
Kerry’s advisers are expected to be in Israel for several more days. Kerry stressed that both Netanyahu and Abbas had asked him to return as soon as he could.
“I believe their request to me to return to the area soon is a sign that they share cautious optimism,” he told the press conference. “This has been years and years; if it takes another week or two weeks or some more time that is minimal, minuscule compared to the stakes and what we are trying to do.”
From Thursday evening, Kerry met with Netanyahu and Abbas three times each. He spent a total of 13 hours with Netanyahu and seven hours with Abbas.
After the lengthy meeting with Netanyahu and Livni on Saturday night, Kerry and his bodyguards toured Jerusalem’s Old City. He returned to his hotel for a few hours of rest and then set out for the last meeting with Abbas in Ramallah.
After that meeting, with Kerry en route to the airport, Erekat reported progress but no breakthrough that would allow the talks to resume.
Netanyahu told his ministers at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting that Israel was not the one preventing the resumption of talks.
“Israel is prepared to enter negotiations without delay and without preconditions,” he said. “We are not putting up any obstacles to renewing the permanent-status talks between us and the Palestinians.”
Netanyahu added that if an agreement were ever reached, it would be submitted to the public in a referendum.