Israel and Palestine prepare for peace negotiations
JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said he hoped the peace negotiations that are to begin next week would include meetings every two weeks between him and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, an Israeli official said Friday.
The official, who was speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, said there would “of course be input from lower levels.” He added that Netanyahu had appointed Yitzhak Molcho, a lawyer and longtime confidant, as Israel’s chief negotiator for the talks, which open with a dinner Wednesday in Washington and formally begin Thursday.
The chief Palestinian negotiator is Saeb Erekat, a peace process veteran. Erekat said on Friday that it was “premature to speak at this stage about the structure” of how the negotiations would be conducted. The priority, he said by telephone, was for Netanyahu to choose peace over settlements; a partial Israeli moratorium on settlement construction is scheduled to expire on Sept. 26.
The Palestinians have said that they cannot continue negotiations if Israel resumes construction in the settlements.
“We really want him to be a partner,” Erekat said of Netanyahu. He added that he had worked opposite Molcho “with respect and honor in the past.”
Molcho, who has not held a government position, negotiated with the Palestinians on Netanyahu’s behalf during Netanyahu’s first term in office during the late 1990s and played a leading role in the talks that led to the Hebron and Wye accords in the framework of the Oslo process.
Dennis Ross, who was an American envoy to the Middle East from 1988 to 2000, wrote in his 2004 book “The Missing Peace — The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace,” that as Netanyahu’s negotiator in the 1990s, Molcho was “the only person Bibi trusted completely.” He was referring to the Israeli prime minister by his popular nickname.
Ross is a senior member of the National Security Council in June 2009.
Since Netanyahu returned to the prime minister’s office last year, Molcho has acted as his trusted emissary, meeting with Obama administration officials, among other things, to try to reach understandings on settlement construction.
For the last few months, Israel and the Palestinians have been engaged in indirect talks brokered by George J. Mitchell, the U.S. special representative to the region.
The last direct negotiations, between the Palestinians and the previous Israeli government led by Ehud Olmert, broke off in late 2008. Olmert, who led a centrist government, met frequently with Abbas to try to reach agreement on principles for a final status deal based on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, while negotiating teams worked in more detail.
Those talks ended when Israel began a military offensive against Hamas.