Israel responds to Abbas

2012-05-13 16:35

Ramallah - Israel was prepared to restart peace talks with the Palestinians "without any preconditions," the spokesperson for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday.

Regev's comments came after a Netanyahu envoy met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah overnight, and gave him a letter outlining Israel's response to a list of Palestinian conditions for restarting peace talks.

The meeting, between Abbas and envoy Yitzhak Molcho, came after the centrist Kadima faction joined the premier's right-wing coalition last week, forming a government of national unity with an avowed key goal of reviving the peace talks.

Netanyahu's spokesman Mark Regev gave no detail about the letter's specific content.

"Israel is ready to discuss all the core issues of the conflict and is ready to engage immediately," he told dpa.

Abbas has repeatedly said he will not resume the moribund peace talks until Israel halts construction in its West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem.

The two sides issued a rare joint statement after the late Saturday talks in the central West Bank city.

"Israel and the Palestinian Authority are committed to achieving peace, and the sides hope that the exchange of letters between President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu will further this goal," the statement said.

Netanyahu expressed cautious optimism at the unity cabinet's first session in Jerusalem.

End the crisis

"I hope that we will be able to advance the dialogue between the sides in order to resume the diplomatic talks," he said.

Abbas, for his part, said his meeting with Molcho focused on a mass hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

"We are working to end this crisis as soon as possible," he told a meeting of his Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee in Ramallah. He expressed hope that Israel would respond positively to the hunger strikers' demands, official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.

More than 4 000 Palestinians are jailed in Israel for security-related offences, but the Palestinians consider them to be political prisoners. Most are militants, but they also include Hamas lawmakers.

The hunger striking prisoners' demands include visiting rights for their Gazan relatives, disallowed since the radical Islamist movement seized sole control of the coastal enclave in 2007.

Regev did not comment on speculation of behind-the-scenes negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in a bid to end the hunger strike, possibly this week.

The mass hunger strike will enter its fifth week on Tuesday, while two are said to have been without food for over 75 days - although the Israeli prison service says they are on intravenous drips.

The peace talks stalled in September 2010, when Israel failed to extend a 10-month partial moratorium on construction in its West Bank settlements, arguing that the Palestinians had left it to the last minute before agreeing to negotiate.

Abbas fears that it would jeopardize a viable Palestinian state if Israeli settlements continued to expand while open-ended negotiations were underway.

He also demands that Netanyahu commit to the borders of 4 June 1967 -before Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt - as the basis for the future Palestinian state.

Read more on:    mahmoud abbas  |  benjamin netanyahu  |  israel  |  palestine  |  middle east peace

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