Jerusalem, April 17 ‒ Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was a no-show Tuesday as a Palestinian delegation presented Fayyad's Israeli counterpart with a letter outlining preconditions to peace talks.
A draft version of the letter from PA President Mahmoud Abbas wasleaked earlier this week, giving a list of Palestinian complaints and accusations against Israel. Among the demands was a call for Israel to stop all construction in disputed territories and release Palestinian prisoners including all those convicted of terrorist bombings.
The AFP reported that despite Fayyad's previous commitment to attend, Fayyad had serious "reservations" beforehand about meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and various news reports on Tuesday blamed a dispute over tax revenue and the beginning of a major Palestinian prisoner-led hunger strike were to blame for his absence.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said despite the difficulties with the Palestinians, Israel wanted to push forward with direct peace talks towards a two-state solution.
“Our position is known. We want negotiations without preconditions. We are aiming for the solution of two states for two peoples,” Barak said in an Army Radio interview. “You need two to tango and until now it was difficult to get the Palestinians to discussions without them raising pre-conditions.”
Israel’s position was backed by major powers including Russia, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States. Those entities issued a statement last week reiterating their call from last September to “resume direct bilateral Israeli -Palestinian negotiations without delay or preconditions.”
“It is very difficult to decipher the behavior of the Palestinians, which does not look totally consistent. We have the problem of Hamas in the background, which is a not a simple issue,” Barak said.
The Palestinians have been split since 2007 between the West Bank, controlled by Abbas’ Fatah Party, and the Gaza Strip, run by the Iran-backed Hamas terrorist organization. A recent attempt failed to reconcile long-simmering hatred between the two sides and form a unity government. Israeli leaders had said that a Fatah-Hamas government would likely kill the peace process, because Hamas rejects peace with Israel, won’t give up armed attacks and refuses to negotiate.
A spokesman for Netanyahu said the Israelis would study the Palestinian letter before issuing a response.