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Netanyahu agrees to meet Abbas in Moscow, rejects any 'preconditions' set by Palestinians

Sept. 6, 2016 10:16 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 12, 2016 11:58 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday responded to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ expressed willingness to meet with Netanyahu in Russia, saying that the meeting would only be held if Abbas could commit to a meeting without “preconditions,” Israeli media reported.

On Saturday, amid reports that Russia would be willing to host a meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu, the Palestinian ambassador to Russia said that the Palestinian leadership would be open to joining the meeting.

Ambassador Abd al-Hafith Nufal told Ma'an at the time that the Palestinian leadership would be willing, “in principle,” to take part in the meeting “sought-after by Russia” to resume Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

The ambassador said that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa Mikhail Bogdanov had met with President Abbas in Amman almost two weeks ago, and expressed Russia’s desire to contribute to direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.

However, on Tuesday Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Netanyahu rejected any preconditions for talks between the two leaders, saying Palestinian spokespeople had already imposed conditions on the meeting, such as the release of Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons.

“If Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) wants to meet without preconditions for direct talks, I'm ready at all times. I've been calling on him to so for seven years already, and if he agrees to do so there'll be a meeting," Haaretz reported Netanyahu saying.

Haaretz also reported that earlier on Tuesday the meeting in Russia expected on September 9 was postponed until a later date after Bogdanov visited Israel on Monday and met with Netanyahu to discuss the possibility of holding a meeting in Moscow.

Nufal told Ma’an on Saturday that the talks with Russia will not be an alternative to the ongoing French peace initiative, but will rather “build the basis for a new stage [in negotiations] and will complement international initiatives to resume peace talks.”

According to Nufal, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will visit the occupied Palestinian territory in November to meet with Palestinian officials and discuss bilateral relations.

Over the past several months, France has been leading renewed peace efforts between Palestine and Israel with the aim of solving the decades-long conflict between the countries.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu staunchly rejected the multilateral French initiative in April, saying the “best way to resolve the conflict between Israel and Palestinians is through direct, bilateral negotiations."

Prior to Russia’s recent interest in conducting bilateral negotiations, Netanyahu had welcomed Egypt’s bilateral efforts through restarting the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.

The Palestinian Authority has repeatedly expressed support for the French initiative, and in April shelved the submission of a new anti-settlement resolution to the UN out of fear that doing so could thwart progress of new French proposals, causing outrage among various Palestinian political factions.

All past efforts towards peace negotiations have failed to end the decades-long Israeli military occupation or bring Palestinians closer to an independent contiguous state.

The most recent spate of negotiations led by the US collapsed in April 2014.

Israel claimed the process failed because the Palestinians refused to accept a US framework document outlining the way forward, while Palestinians pointed to Israel's ongoing settlement building and the government's refusal to release veteran prisoners.
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