Israel’s Prime minister on Sunday proposed nonstop, face-to-face talks with the Palestinian president until a peace agreement is reached — offering a possible way to advance talks that have stalled over the construction of Jewish settlements.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal offers the appeal of leaders working together to make history, and it comes in response to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ latest claim — made over the weekend in South America — that genuine talks could yield a deal within months. But the Palestinians showed little enthusiasm for Netanyahu’s offer.
Abbas reiterated his call for a settlement freeze. “If he does so, we can reach an agreement not in six months, but in two months,” he said.
Abbas’ chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said Netanyahu’s offer amounted to little more than an empty declaration. He called on the Israeli leader to spell out a vision of peace, and specifically to commit to a near-complete withdrawal from the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
In his comments Sunday, Netanyahu urged the Palestinians to turn their focus away from settlements and instead work with him on the broader issues needed to reach a final peace deal.
He said he was ready to sit with Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, for “continuous direct one-on-one negotiations until white smoke is wafting,” an allusion to the Vatican’s custom for announcing a new pope.