Russian President Vladimir Putin is still trying to arrange a meeting in Moscow between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday. A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman in Moscow said that Netanyahu and Abbas have “agreed in principle” to hold such a meeting, but the sides have not yet agreed on a date.
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The statement by Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on the Israeli-Palestinian issue was delivered during a daily press briefing in Moscow and was part of a summary of the visit of Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov in Israel and the Palestinian Authority earlier this week. The focus of Bogdanov’s visit was Putin’s proposal to host a meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas in Moscow. Bogdanov met with Netanyahu and with Palestinian officials, and also spoke with Abbas by telephone.
Zakharova said there was still not sufficient agreement to enable the meeting to take place and that contacts will continue with both parties. She said the Russian government believes there is a need to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as part of a larger effort to stabilize the Middle East. Israelis and Palestinians, she added, must reach a compromise “on the basis of international law."
The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said that Netanyahu and Abbas have expressed willingness to meet in Moscow. “We are pleased with how ore initiative was received,” Zakahrova said. “The main thing to be done now is to find the most suitable time for the meeting.”
Abbas claimed earlier this week that Putin proposed holding the meeting in Moscow as soon as this Friday. Abbas said that he had agreed to hold the meeting, but that Netanyahu sought to postpone it to a later date. Senior Israeli officials confirmed that Moscow proposed holding the meeting on Friday, but said that Netanyahu requested to postpone it because he did not want to hold the meeting on Shabbat eve and also because he had yet to receive clarifications as to whether the Palestinian president was demanding something from Israel in return for attending the meeting. Netanyahu asked that the meeting would take place without any preconditions.
Some Palestinian officials have claimed in recent days that Abbas is not setting any preconditions for a meeting with Netanyahu in Moscow. However, other Palestinian officials have continued to insist that the conditions for a meeting are the release of Palestinian prisoners, a settlement building freeze and Israeli willingness to negotiate the borders of a future Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 lines with territorial exchanges.
On Tuesday, at a press conference Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte at The Hague, Netanyahu said that he was ready to meet Abbas, but that the Palestinian president continues to insist on preconditions for such a meeting.
“I’m ready to meet with Abu Mazen anytime without preconditions for direct talks,” Netanyahu said, referring to Abbas by his nickname. “It's something I've said hundreds of times and I'm saying it again here. I'm not picky about the location – whether it's here in the Netherlands or in Moscow, there's no problem. It can definitely be in Moscow. I said it to President [Vladimir] Putin and I said it to the Russian envoy [Mikhail] Bogdanov only yesterday.”
Netanyahu went on: "the main question is whether Abu Mazen is willing to meet without preconditions. We hear conflicting versions about it. Only yesterday, Palestinian spokespeople clarified that they're ready to meet, but they have conditions – the release of prisoners, and they also want to know in advance what the results of the talks will be.
"If Abu Mazen wants to meet without preconditions for direct talks, I'm ready at all times. I've been calling on him to so for seven years already, and if he agrees to do so there'll be a meeting," the prime minister added.