Israel Needs to Tackle Core Issues for Peace to Be in Sight, Palestinian Official Says

Speaking in wake of the deadly West Bank attack, the head of the PA's U.S. mission expects settlement freeze to continue to be a decisive negotiations topic.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went out of his way to try and convince accompanying reporters that he had every intention to genuinely seek out peace in upcoming direct talks in Washington, the mood in the Palestinian camp was decidedly more somber.

The PLO's U.S. Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat
Natasha Mozgovaya

The Palestinian delegation to the peace talks, already apprehensive after the United States had made it clear it would not, as the PA had wanted, condition peace talks with a continued freeze of settlement construction, grew even more timid in the wake of Tuesday's deadly West Bank shooting attack, with few officials making themselves available to the media.

In a statement issued by his office on Tuesday, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the attack, which was claimed by the armed wing of the Hamas Islamist movement which governs the Gaza Strip, saying the attack went "against Palestinian interests."

A notable exception to the apparent Palestinian low profile, however, was the head of General Delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organization to the United States, Maen Rashid Areikat, who expressed Palestinian pessimism coming into negotiations, telling Haaretz on Tuesday the Palestinians were entering nearing peace talks "with caution."

"A lot of work is ahead of us – and these are two critical days because it will provide us with sense where are we heading," Areikat said.

Answering to whether or not the Palestinians thought Israel genuinely sought to achieve peace in upcoming talks, Areikat said that "the more we see their willingness to discuss the core issues, rather than act on the ground in a way that undermines these negotiations – the more we will become hopeful that these negotiations will lead to some kind of results."

When asked whether the Palestinians were pressured to give up their demand to extend Israel's settlement freeze, the PA official said he wouldn't "characterize it as pressure – there is a limit on how much pressure you can exert on a party. And for us the issue of settlements is a fundamental issue, because it’s something you can see."

"Ordinary Palestinian can see the settlement activity going on the Palestinian territories, and then they wonder if the Israelis are serious about the negotiations and giving back this land for us to build our own state," Areikat told Haaretz.

"If yes, why do they build on this land? Or us this issue is critical. It will send the clearest signal about the Israelis intentions. That’s why we cannot negotiate if they continue building."

Referring to reported attempts to find a "creative formula" around the settlement freeze, the PA official said the "Americans are talking to the Israelis on this issue – the Palestinians are not part of these discussions."

"We made our position clear to the administration. We have not being fully informed about the point they reached with the Israelis on this issue," he said, adding that the Palestinians would try to make it clear to the Israelis that they could not talk the negotiations if they will continue building settlements."

"Our leadership is already under pressure, from mainstream Palestinians, from Fatah, about the wisdom of going into these negotiations," Areikat said.