by Staff Writers
Jerusalem (AFP) April 17, 2012
A Palestinian delegation on Tuesday personally delivered a letter from president Mahmud Abbas to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he details his grievances over the failure of the peace process.
The letter was handed over at a brief meeting between Netanyahu and his chief negotiator Yitzhak Molcho with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat and intelligence chief Majed Faraj.
The Palestinian delegation described the meeting as "serious" and both sides confirmed Netanyahu would respond with his own letter to Abbas "within two weeks."
"This evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with representatives of the Palestinian side who handed him a letter from president Abbas," the Israeli leader's office said in a statement.
"Israel and the Palestinian Authority are committed to reaching peace," it said after the talks, which lasted just under an hour.
"Within two weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will send a letter to president Abbas," it said, concluding: "The two sides hope that this exchange of letters will help find the way to advance peace."
Speaking to AFP shortly afterwards, Erakat expressed satisfaction over the brief encounter.
"It was a serious meeting," he said. "Netanyahu will study the letter seriously and answer it within two weeks."
The delegation was initially supposed to be a top-level affair led by prime minister Salam Fayyad, but ended up a more low key affair after officials confirmed at the last minute that the premier would not be taking part -- without saying why.
Earlier this month, senior officials on both sides said the delegation would be led by Fayyad in what would have been the first high-level meeting between the two sides in more than 18 months.
But Fayyad's office never confirmed his participation, and by the late afternoon, speculation was rife that he would not attend.
Fayyad's office flatly refused to comment on the incident, although a source close to the premier admitted the Western-backed leader had "reservations" about meeting the Israeli leader, without explaining further.
Israeli officials had no immediate comment on the content of the letter.
Earlier on Tuesday, Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said the main aim of the document was to challenge the Israeli leader over the collapse of the peace process, saying its objective was to "put Mr Netanyahu on the spot."
According to a copy of the missive which was seen by AFP earlier this week, Abbas accuses Israel of stripping the Palestinian Authority of all of its authority and warns over the slide towards a bi-national state.
"As a result of actions taken by successive Israeli governments, the Palestinian National Authority no longer has any authority, and no meaningful jurisdiction in the political, economic, territorial and security spheres," he writes.
"In other words, the PA lost its raison d'etre which, if it continues, will make it unable to honour its commitments," he says in reference to the multiple agreements signed with Israel since the 1993 Oslo Accords, which brought about the creation of the Palestinian Authority a year later.
He asks Israel to outline "as soon as possible" its positions on four key issues: the principle of a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 lines, halting settlement activity, releasing all Palestinian prisoners, and revoking all decisions which undermine bilateral agreements since 2000.
"We stand ready to immediately resume negotiations the minute we receive your positive response on these points," he writes.
Israel says it wants negotiations without preconditions, but the Palestinians have sought a settlement freeze and clear parameters for talks before returning to the table.
In January, negotiators from both sides held five exploratory meetings in a bid to find a way to resume dialogue, but they ended inconclusively, after which Abbas announced he was planning on sending a letter to Netanyahu.
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Syria clashes warm up ahead of UN team arrival
Damascus (AFP) April 15, 2012
Syrian forces reportedly killed five civilians in shelling of rebel areas and clashes with gunmen on Sunday, testing a shaky UN-backed ceasefire as international monitors prepared to fly in. UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was "very much concerned" at the renewed killings in the flashpoint central city of Homs and urged the Damascus government to ensure that the ceasefire does not collapse. ... read more