Palestinians deliver letter from Abbas to Israel’s Netanyahu


In this image provided by the Israeli Government Press Office, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, who delivered a letter from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. (GPO/Getty Images)

A much-anticipated letter written by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was delivered here Tuesday, but both sides expressed little hope that it would resuscitate peace talks that have been stalled since 2010.

The contents of the letter were not made public, but drafts had been widely circulated. Palestinian leaders had depicted it as a salvo of frustration from a leader who believes that Israeli actions have caused the Palestinian Authority to lose its clout.

The letter reiterated Palestinian demands for restarting peace talks, including an end to Jewish settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and acceptance of the pre-1967 borders as the foundation of a two-state solution. Israel says talks should restart without preconditions.

The letter was delivered in person by the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, to Netanyahu and Israel’s top negotiator, Yitzhak Molcho. Netanyahu’s office said he would respond in writing within two weeks.

A joint statement issued after the meeting said, “Both sides hope that this exchange of letters will help find a way to advance peace.” The two sides last met in January in Jordan, but talks collapsed after five meetings.

Abbas’s letter had been crafted over several weeks, during which Israeli officials played it down, predicting that it would contain nothing new. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad had been expected to deliver it Tuesday in what would have been the highest-level encounter between the two sides since 2010, but he pulled out at the last minute.

Palestinian officials did not explain why. Some local media reports said Fayyad thought the meeting would be inappropriate, and perhaps controversial, because it took place on the same day as an annual show of support for Palestinian inmates in Israeli prisons. Other reports said Fayyad did not agree with the letter.

Fayyad has also been vocal recently about the Palestinian Authority’s declining power, holding Israel partly responsible for that. But he has insisted that the body not be dissolved — an idea that, according to some accounts, was raised in early versions of Abbas’s letter.

If the letter exchange leads nowhere, Palestinian officials have said, they will continue to pursue recognition and assistance at the international level, including at the United Nations, where a Palestinian statehood bid is stalled. Israel and the United States oppose that bid.

Abbas, speaking about the letter Tuesday to reporters during an official visit to Sri Lanka, said, “We stress the status quo cannot continue, and we can’t accept it forever.”

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