European Diplomats Fail in Bid to Set Up Netanyahu-Abbas Talks

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.Credit: Ronen Zvulun , AP , Mohamed Torokman, Reuters

In recent weeks, European officials have tried to arrange a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Israeli and Palestinian officials says the efforts were unsuccessful and each side casts the blame on the other. The Palestinian officials said a European official recently contacted Netanyahu’s and Abbas’ offices to try to set up a meeting between the two.

They said Abbas did not reject the idea outright to avoid being cast as an obstructionist. Abbas requested that before a meeting between the two leaders, a leading Palestinian figure, such as Palestinian negotiating team leader Dr. Saeb Erekat, have a meeting with an emissary from the Prime Minister’s Office, possibly Erekat’s counterpart Yitzhak Molho, to prepare the meeting and the topics to be covered. The Palestinians said they were ready to discuss a resumption of peace talks with Israel on conditions including a settlement freeze and the release of the fourth round of Palestinian prisoners, who were not released in March 2014 under the peace initiative of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

A senior Palestinian official says there was no Arab pressure on this matter, notably none from Egypt. He describes it as an attempt by European officials to get the process moving prior to the summit that Paris is eager to convene by the end of this year. “We don’t want a meeting that’s just for PR and photo ops. We proposed a professional, very high-level meeting prior to the summit to understand where Netanyahu is willing to go, but we haven’t heard any answer or readiness for this. Netanyahu wants a meeting with Abbas for the photo op and perhaps for another campaign of meaningless negotiations that will only be a waste of time and possibly erode the French initiative, but no more than that. So we brought a practical proposal for a serious and professional meeting before the summit, and it was turned down.”

Erekat-Molho first?

Israeli officials confirm that there was an attempt by officials from a European country to arrange a meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas. And they say similar attempts have been made over the past two years. They say that Israel agreed to a meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas, but did not agree to a preliminary meeting between Erekat and Molho, maintaining that it would not advance the meeting between the two leaders. “The prime minister is ready to meet with Abu Mazen [Abbas] at any time, without any preconditions,” the Israeli official said. “Past experience shows that the preliminary meetings demanded by the Palestinians are just a means for imposing preconditions for negotiations, which is unacceptable to Israel. If Abu Mazen wants to meet, the prime minister is ready to do so immediately, anywhere.”

An official in the Palestinian president’s office also told Haaretz that the Palestinians have no concrete information regarding any proposal or outline that U.S. President Barack Obama is planning to put forward in the coming months, in particular during the time between the presidential election and the inauguration of the next president: “There are talks and contacts but nothing we can hold on to or build a policy or operative steps upon. Our expectation from the Americans was that more could have been done long ago and not just at the end of the president’s term when everyone is already looking ahead to the next administration.”

Privately, Palestinian leaders say that if the administration had made the establishment of a Palestinian state a strategic objective, it would have happened: “When President Obama wanted to attain an accord with Iran, he was able to do so, and all of Netanyahu’s attempts to thwart it, including his trip to Washington and speech to Congress, didn’t change the president’s position.,” said one Palestinian official. “On the Palestinian issue, the administration would not have objected to an accord if the parties, especially the Israeli government, sought one, but it was not at all prepared to lead an international move for an accord despite all the repeated declarations about commitment to the two-state solution.”

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