Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat—For the fifth time in four months, US secretary of state John Kerry visited the Middle East in a bid to revive the long-suspended Palestinian–Israeli peace process amid doubts from both sides over the outcome of the US top diplomat’s mission.
Kerry is set to meet Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in either Ramallah or, most likely, Amman on Thursday.
Meanwhile, both sides appear committed to their long-held positions on restarting negotiations, with the Palestinian side calling for the complete suspension of settlement-building and recognition of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, while Tel Aviv is insisting that negotiations begin without preconditions.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said in a statement: “President Mahmoud Abbas adheres to the two-state principle based on 1967 borders.”
“What has been circulated by Israeli media outlets about [Palestine] forgoing 1967 borders is completely untrue,” Erekat added.
Erekat’s statement came in response to media reports claiming that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu would release Palestinian prisoners and freeze the construction of settlements outside Judea and Samaria, in exchange for Mahmoud Abbas relinquishing his precondition to re-start negotiations based on the 1967 borders.
According to the Israeli Maariv newspaper, the US-backed plan is intended to allow both leaders to save face, with Abbas emerging victorious by securing the release of Palestinian prisoners and a settlement freeze and Netanyahu not committing himself to the 1967 borders precondition.
Erekat confirmed that the Palestinian Authority is making every effort to help Kerry’s peace endeavors succeed, provided that negotiations are “based on the two-state principle according to 1967 borders and the Israeli government fulfilling its obligations to halt settlement-building and release prisoners.”
On the other side, several Israeli ministers have publicly announced their rejection of the establishment of a Palestinian state following Netanyahu’s statements in favor of re-launching negotiations.
“If Secretary Kerry were to pitch a tent halfway between Jerusalem and Ramallah and I’m committed to stay in the tent and negotiate for as long as it takes to work out a solution of peace and security between us and the Palestinians,” Netanyahu told the Washington Post.
The Israeli prime minister said that the Israeli–Palestinian conflict must be resolved and that he opposed a “bi-national state,” preferring “a state for the Jewish people alongside a state for the Palestinian people.”
Netanyahu added that he is in favor of establishing a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state of Israel. However, hardline Israeli ministers did not hesitate to deny the PA’s right to form a government even under these conditions, which the majority of Palestinians reject.
Earlier this week Naftali Bennett, the Israeli minister of industry and trade, openly said: “The idea that a Palestinian state will be formed in the land of Israel has come to a dead end,” casting doubts on Kerry’s visit this week.