The chief Palestinian negotiator delivered a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling on Israel to end settlement building and blaming it for undermining the Palestinian Authority’s powers.
Netanyahu said in a statement after the meeting in Jerusalem with Saeb Erakat that the two sides remained dedicated to finding a peaceful solution to the conflict and that he would respond to the letter within two weeks.
Erakat said before the meeting that Prime Minister Salam Fayyad would head the Palestinian delegation, making it the highest-level Israeli-Palestinian encounter in 19 months. Fayyad didn’t make the trip, which had been arranged to deliver the letter from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas wrote the letter as Palestinian efforts to pursue full recognition at the United Nations have stalled and the Authority faces a growing budget crunch that the World Bank says is jeopardizing efforts to build the institutions of a state. Peace talks have been suspended since September 2010, when Netanyahu declined to extend a 10-month freeze on construction in West Bank settlements.
“The Palestinians will wait for the Israeli response and also will wait for the Americans to come up with any ideas to help push forward the peace process,” said Khalil Shaheen, a political analyst at Bethlehem-based Badil, the Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights.
The Palestinian Authority is expected to have a 2012 deficit of about $1.1 billion, the World Bank said in a March 15 report. The shortfall is a result of a decline in donor funds, slowing economic growth and Israeli restrictions that hinder development and trade, the bank said.
The Israeli government has said that security restrictions on movement in the West Bank have been eased in recent years, including the removal of dozens of road blocks and checkpoints.
The letter expresses Palestinian frustration after two decades of negotiations, according to an Arabic text sent by Erakat’s office.
“Twenty years ago, we concluded with Israel an agreement under international auspices which was intended to take the Palestinian people from occupation to independence,” the letter says. “Now, as a result of actions taken by successive Israeli governments, the Palestinian National Authority no longer has any authority, and no meaningful jurisdiction in the political, economic, social, territorial and security spheres.”
Netanyahu’s office said in its statement that the “two sides hope that this exchange of letters will help in finding a path to advance peace.”
“Everyone is skeptical of the prospects of getting anywhere but nobody wants to be seen as the one responsible for the failure,” Mark Heller, senior research fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, said in a telephone interview. “So, there is a lot of going through the motions and cultivation of world public opinion.”
Mohammad Shtayyeh, a longtime Palestinian negotiator, said the letter is aimed at sending a message that peace efforts have failed and Israel is to blame. Israeli negotiators say the breakdown is due to the Palestinian refusal to hold talks without conditions such as the proposed settlement freeze.