PA premier snubs Netanyahu; Abbas letter delivered by Erekat

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomes PA negotiator Saeb Erekat to his Jerusalem residence on Tuesday. (Flash90)

JERUSALEM (JWN and agencies)—Just hours before Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was due to hand Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu a much anticipated letter from PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Fayyad backed out of the Tuesday meeting without explanation.

Instead, Abbas’s letter was delivered by senior PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, who met with Netanyahu at his Jerusalem residence. Erekat was accompanied by the PA’s West Bank intelligence chief, Majed Faraj. Netanyahu was accompanied by his long-time envoy, Yitzhak Molho.

During the 80-minute meeting, Netanyahu perused Abbas’s five-page letter, which was written in English. Sources said the document contained no change in the PA’s demands for an immediate halt to settlement construction and to conduct negotiations based on the pre-June 1967 frontiers.

The missive also apparently did not repeat Abbas’s threat to dissolve the PA and hand the administration of the West Bank over to Israel as “the occupying power,” while pursuing statehood recognition through the UN General Assembly.

It was agreed that Molho would deliver Netanyahu’s reply to Abbas in Ramallah in two weeks.

At the end of the meeting, the two sides published a joint communiqué declaring that “Israel and the Palestinian Authority are committed to achieving peace. Both sides hope that the exchange of letters will help find the way to promote peace.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman reacted to Fayyad’s snub by accusing Abbas of not being interested in achieving a peace agreement with Israel. He said on a visit to Cyprus that the Palestinians spend time blaming Israel rather than working to solve their own internal problems.

While no official explanation was forthcoming about Fayyad’s cancelation, analysts suggested the PA premier was reluctant to be seen meeting with his Israeli counterpart on “Prisoner Day,” when some 1,600 Palestinian security prisoners began a hunger strike to protest against their conditions in Israeli jails.

PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo, who was also supposed to join the delegation to Jerusalem, also decided to stay away at the last minute, apparently for similar reasons.