Reports say Israel taking steps to restart peace negotiations

jerusalem  |  Israel has been working with the United States to develop a new framework to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians, according to reports.

News agencies this week cited an unnamed Israeli government official as saying that there have been recent efforts to formulate the new framework, which will hew closely to the call in May by President Barack Obama for an agreement using the 1967 lines as a basis for negotiations, with land swaps.

The push for renewed talks is an attempt to dissuade Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas from bringing the issue of Palestinian statehood recognition to a vote at the United Nations in September.

On Aug. 1, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that his government had been working with the Obama administration and other members of the Mideast Quartet — the United States, United Nations, Russia and the European Union — on a draft document calling for renewed peace talks, and that the coordination with Washington was better than expected, the Jerusalem Post reported.

An Israeli official, who agreed to speak to AP on the condition that his name not be used, said that although Netanyahu has repeatedly stated he will not return to the 1967 lines, Israel is “willing to show some flexibility” on the matter if the Palestinians show flexibility with Israeli concerns. One of the main concerns is for Palestinians to recognize a Jewish state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) listens to military adviser Maj. Gen. Yohanan Locker at an Aug. 1 meeting in the Knesset. photo/ap/sebastian scheiner

But Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told AP, “There is no offer. We have only heard things in the media. If Netanyahu would like to talk about accepting the 1967 borders, he can just show up and talk. But he is not serious.”

The Palestinians continue their demand that Israel halt settlement construction before resuming talks. They say there is no point in negotiating if Israel continues to build homes in Jewish enclaves on territories claimed by the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, reports surfaced that Israeli President Shimon Peres at the last minute canceled a meeting with Abbas at which the Israeli president was scheduled to present a new proposal in order to advance the pace of negotiations. Peres reportedly met last week with Erekat.

Meanwhile, Palestinian officials in the West Bank this week announced they would hold mass protest marches against Israel beginning on Sept. 20, the night before the possible U.N. vote to recognize Palestinian statehood.

Palestinian official Yasser Abed Rabbo said leaders hope to draw millions of people into the streets, marking the beginning of prolonged demonstrations.

He said the marches will be peaceful. But Israeli leaders fear any unrest could easily spin out of control.

In Washington, D.C., on July 26, seven retired Israeli diplomats and military officers met with high-ranking officials on the White House National Security Council and at the State Department to press for greater U.S. engagement in brokering the peace talks.

The group of seven was sponsored by J Street, which also conducted briefings in Congress.

Speaking about the 1967 Six-Day War, one member of the group, Gen. Nehemiah Dagan, a former chief education officer, told the Washington Jewish Week, “We were small and we won. The borders are defensible.” — jta

The Associated Press contributed to this report.