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Palestinian letter to Israel lays out conditions for peace talks

April 17, 2012 | 11:45 am

Palestinian Cabinet
JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met briefly Tuesday with Palestinian Authority leaders to accept a formal letter outlining their demands for restarting stalled peace talks.

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was originally expected to attend the much-anticipated meeting, but in the end he skipped it. His office said he had never agreed to take part.

Though Palestinians declined to release a copy of their letter, it reportedly reiterated points they have been making for nearly three years, warning Israel that its settlement construction in the West Bank was undermining Palestinian trust in Israel’s endorsement of a two-state solution.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to meet with Netanyahu until Israel freezes  construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. He is threatening to renew efforts to seek an upgraded status in the United Nations General Assembly from “observer” to “non-member state.”

An earlier draft of the letter included a threat to disband the authority, thereby dropping administration and funding of the West Bank back in Israel’s lap. But pressure from the U.S. convinced Palestinians to soften that language.

“The purpose of this letter is to hold the government of Netanyahu fully responsible for the deadlock despite many efforts by the Palestinian Authority to salvage the peace process,” said Wasel Abu Yousef, member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the top Palestinian decision-making body.

Netanyahu's office said he will respond with a letter of his own within two weeks. It is likely to repeat his call for Palestinians to return to the negotiating table without preconditions.

Some view the public letter exchange as an empty gesture, reflecting the lack of fresh ideas on both sides. With the entire Middle East region in turmoil, Palestinians in particular appear divided and uncertain about their next move or how to put their statehood bid back on the front burner.

“This letter is another waste of time,” said Palestinian political analyst Hani Masri. “The letter is closer to begging than an ultimatum. It says nothing about disbanding the Palestinian Authority, nothing about rescinding recognition of Israel or suspending security cooperation with it. Even the options it talks about have been tested and they do not seem to work.”

Others say the letter is a final warning that the Palestinians intend to renew a campaign they suspended last fall, seeking international recognition of statehood. Though full membership in the U.N. was blocked by the threat of a U.S. veto in the U.N. Security Council, the authority could probably win support for an upgraded status in the General Assembly, where vetoes do not apply.

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-- Edmund Sanders and Maher Abukhater

Photo: Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad heads a meeting of his Cabinet at his office in the West Bank town of Ramallah on April 17, 2012. Credit: EPA/Atef Safadi

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