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 state.
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.