Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Sunday that while he has held secret talks with Israeli envoys, any return to full negotiations will depend on a full settlement freeze.
Erekat said he had discussions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s adviser Yitzhak Molcho while he delivered a letter from President Mahmoud Abbas to Netanyahu on April 17.
He described another meeting on May 7 when he went to receive Netanyahu’s reply. Officially, Molcho delivered his premier’s response to Abbas and Erekat in Ramallah on May 12. Meanwhile, Erekat suffered a mild heart attack on May 8 and said he was thus unable to hold more talks.
Israeli daily Haaretz reported Sunday that the envoys had held six or seven meetings in the last two months, prior to Erekat’s heart attack, on the exchange of communiques, and Palestinian requests for goodwill gestures from Israel.
Erekat told Ma’an the Palestinian position remains based on a full settlement freeze and recognition of a Palestinian state on 1967 borders as the basis of full negotiations.
“Otherwise, we will end up repeating the previous rounds of negotiations,” he said.
The revelation of ongoing talks between Molcho and Erekat comes as President Abbas indicated he would talk to Israel if it freed prisoners and allows more arms to Palestinian security forces.
On Friday, Abbas said he had informed Israeli envoys he would open a dialogue with Israel in exchange for arms allowances and released detainees, but stressed it wouldn’t amount to full negotiations, reiterating his insistence on a total freeze on settlements.
Erekat commented on an earlier statement by Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak that Israel might consider “unilateral steps,” interpreted as military withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, if peace talks do not proceed.
“We can not control the lips of Israeli leaders, but we warn that unilateral steps failed in Lebanon and in the Gaza Strip,” Erekat told Ma’an.
Israel would be better stick to already signed agreements, he added.
The senior Palestinian official said that the leadership “have not changed our mind” on pursuing upgraded membership of the United Nations, but would not seek any trouble with the United States.
The United States cut off funding to Palestinians last year after Abbas made a bid for recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations Security Council.
After the bid failed, Palestinian leaders are still touting the option of seeking the lesser status upgrade at the UN General Assembly, where the US does not have veto power.
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