•Refusal comes ahead of Israeli govt. vote on U.S. offer
•Israeli PM pushing for freeze as gesture to restart negotiations
•PLO Executive Committee member pushes for unilateral statehood
Secretary Clinton with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
(Photo: U.S. State Dept.)
Jerusalem, Nov. 16 - Palestinian officials said they won’t return to peace talks with Israel even if the country agrees to a three-month construction freeze the United States is pursuing as part of a package of incentives to revive the negotiations.
The Palestinians said they would only go back to the table if Israel imposes a comprehensive freeze.
"If (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu stops the settlements, we will go back to direct negotiations," said Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestinian Authority. A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas echoed Erekat’s sentiment.
Meanwhile, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee said in a statement that Palestinian leaders shouldn’t negotiate and instead push for unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state via the United Nations.
The latest round of Israeli-Palestinian talks began Sept. 2 but ended a few weeks later when Abbas walked away because Israel wouldn’t extend its voluntary 10-month construction moratorium. The Palestinian precondition for a freeze in order to continue the talks was a first since the two sides began negotiating 16 years ago.
The Palestinian refusal this week comes even before a vote by the Israeli government to approve the U.S. offer. Netanyahu presented the U.S. package to his cabinet Saturday (Nov. 13); the government is expected to vote on it Wednesday (Nov. 17).
Netanyahu, who has been pushing his government to approve the offer, said Monday (Nov. 15), “We are trying to resume negotiations with our Palestinian neighbors and promote peace accords with the rest of the Arab countries.”
Defense Minister Ehud Barak too spoke in favor of the U.S. offer at a gathering in Paris.
Netanyahu met with his seven senior cabinet ministers on Saturday to try to push through the U.S. offer, which includes 20 F-35 fighter jets worth $3 billion and other advanced weaponry as a security measure in exchange for an extension of Israel’s housing moratorium.
The prime minister urged approval of the incentive package as an important gesture towards the Palestinians and a critical step towards creating a two-state solution for the Israelis and the Palestinians. The formula proposed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses Israel's security concerns in the region while fighting Israel's de-legitimization.
Netanyahu and Clinton met Nov. 11 for seven hours to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Washington asked Israel to immediately freeze building in the West Bank and discuss the future borders of a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu has received strong criticism and negative portrayal as "weak" in the Israeli media for trying to pass the formula, according to Israel Radio.
The U.S. administration will ask Congress to approve the incentive package in exchange for the building freeze.