Jerusalem, Jan. 3 – As Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators met for the first time in months Tuesday, Iranian-backed Hamas called on its fellow Palestinians to boycott the Amman meeting.
“Hamas is absolutely dismayed at the continued political meetings between the PA and Israel,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, however, told Israel Army Radio that Israel “is extremely interested in the renewal of contacts” with the Palestinians.
Jordan’s King Abdullah and representatives of the Middle East peace Quartet – the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia – are brokering the talks, but it was not announced if Israeli delegate Yitzhak Molcho and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat were bringing any concrete proposals with them.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas cautioned that the Palestinians would take "new measures" if the newest talks failed by a PA-imposed deadline of Jan. 26. "These measures might be hard," Abbas added, giving no specific detail on whether such actions may involve the United Nations, where the Palestinians have been waging a unilateral campaign for statehood recognition.
The Quartet had asked the Israelis and Palestinians to submit proposals on borders and security by January 26 as a prelude to restarting peace talks that have been paralyzed since 2010. The Palestinians indicated they may bypass the talks and renew efforts to unilaterally gain membership in the United Nations without a peace treaty.
Abbas gave assurances that the recent talks between Fatah and Hamas for a proposed Palestinian government of national unity would respect existing commitments. However, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh repeated over the weekend during an official visit to Sudan that Hamas would “never” recognize Israel. Hamas’ charter calls for Israel’s destruction.
The Palestinians have been trying to mend the political split between Fatah, headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas, which controls Gaza. Hamas is recognized by both the EU and U.S. as a terrorist organization. Despite attempts by Fatah to bring Hamas into the Palestinian mainstream, Hamas leaders have repeatedly said they reject the peace process and their goal is to replace Israel with an Islamic Palestinian state.
The Palestinians are demanding Israel halt all construction in the West Bank and accept the 1967 borders as pre-conditions for the talks. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said on several times in the past months that Israel is willing to resume peace negotiations at any time, but without preconditions.
Israel halted construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 2010, but Palestinians refused to resume peace negotiations until just before the freeze ended and walked out shortly afterwards. Israel declined to renew the freeze, saying negotiations should continue. The housing issue should be discussed at the negotiating table, Israel contends.
Expert comments on this story:
Dr. Shmuel Bar, Mobile: 052-8805956
Dr. Bar is Director of Studies at the Institute of Policy and Strategy in at IDC Herzliya. Retired in 2003 after 30 years in the Israeli civil service (as an intelligence officer in the IDF and the Prime Minister’s Office). Held diplomatic posts in Europe, specializing in Jordanian and Palestinian affairs, radical Islam and terrorism, inter-Arab politics, the Arab-Israeli conflict and the peace process, as well as Asian and African affairs. Advises Israel’s Israeli National Security Council.
Dr. Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, Mobile: 052-295-5693
Dr. Maddy-Weitzman is a Senior Research Fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center, and an expert on the contemporary Arab world, Islamism, and inter-Arab relations. He has written several critical analyses on the peace process.
Marcus Sheff, Mobile: 054-807-9177
Marcus Sheff is Executive Director of The Israel Project's Jerusalem office. He was a political reporter and later an editor at The Jerusalem Post, and served in the IDF for 25 years in the regular and reserve force, first in combat units and later as a reserve officer in the IDF Spokesperson's Unit.