Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have been meeting discreetly in recent weeks in an effort to end the three-year standstill in peace talks, both sides confirmed yesterday. Following reports in Haaretz and AP, officials on both sides acknowledged the agenda of the recent talks have been modest, and stressed that there is no breakthrough at yet.
Palestinian officials, cited in the AP report, have said their chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, have been meeting on a regular basis. The Palestinian officials said they have not eased their preconditions for resuming negotiations, but were open to scheduling a meeting between Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The two men have not met since a short-lived attempt to re-launch negotiations in late 2010. The Palestinians broke off talks after a ten month Israeli moratorium on new settlement construction expired. Erekat met publicly with Netanyahu and Molcho in April to deliver a letter from Abbas to the Israeli PM.
Palestinian officials added that Abbas is seeking a goodwill gesture from Israel, such as a “significant release” of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. They said Abbas, who is engaged in an internal power struggle with Hamas, needs a concrete accomplishment from the meetings or risk facing embarrassment at home.
An Israeli official confirmed there have been “ongoing contacts at different levels”, and reiterated Israel’s position that the resumption of talks should resume without preconditions. Israel returned the remains of dozens of Palestinian militants to their families last month, in a move it described as a gesture to help restart the peace process.
The Palestinians say they will not resume negotiations until Israel halts settlement construction and accepts pre-1967 lines border as a basis for a territorial settlement. Negotiators Erekat and Molcho also held a series of publicised meetings earlier this year in Amman, but without any breakthrough.