ISRAEL: Are Palestinians and Israelis ready to talk face to face?
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Raising hopes that direct peace talks might soon be renewed, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad met Monday in Jerusalem with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the first high-level meeting since February.
Fayyad said in a statement that they discussed “a number of vital and key issues as well as Israeli violations of the rights of our people in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank including Jerusalem.”
He said the discussion focused on quick lifting of the blockade on Gaza as well as implementation of the crossings and movement agreement of 2005, including opening the free passage between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, opening all the crossings into Gaza with Palestinian Authority and European supervision on these crossings.
Regarding Jerusalem, Fayyad said he emphasized total halt to settlement activities, home demolition as well as canceling the deportation order against three Hamas lawmakers and a former minister.
Regarding the West Bank, he called for an end to Israeli military incursions into Palestinian cities and allowing deployment of Palestinian security forces in “all Palestinian population centers outside the cities.” This means stationing Palestinian security units in so-called Areas B, which are, according to the Oslo accords, under Israeli military control.
Fayyad also demanded allowing Palestinian investment in Areas C, which compose most of the West Bank and are under full Israeli control. The Palestinian Authority has plans to build a couple of cities in the Jordan Valley, which is under full Israeli control.
The two also discussed release of Palestinian prisoners, mainly those who have served long sentences.
Fayyad said, “Israel’s commitment to these vital and key issues and enforcing them on the ground will add credibility to the peace process and international efforts to advance and implement it, particularly ending the occupation of the Palestinian land since 1967 and allowing our people the right to self-determination and establishing their independent state of Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital.”
He said that “success of this requires active and tangible international intervention and willingness to be directly responsible for ending the occupation and not leaving Israel, the occupying power, to decide this.”
The Islamist Hamas movement, the Palestinian Authority’s main rival, has condemned the meeting. Hamas said in a statement Monday night that the meeting was “the result of U.S. pressure to improve the image of Israel and to save it after the Freedom Flotilla crime.” It said the meeting was part of the “security coordination with the occupation force and a new cover for the crimes of the occupiers against our Palestinian people under siege in the Gaza Strip for four years.”
It said, “This meeting does not represent or commit the Palestinian people to anything.”
-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah