Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu replied Saturday to a letter from Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas about the moribund peace process, a Palestinian source said.
Netanyahu’s chief negotiator Yitzhak Molcho delivered the letter to Abbas in Ramallah, the West Bank city where the Palestinian Authority is based, shortly after 9:00 pm (1800 GMT), said the source in Abbas’ office.
The letter’s contents were not made public.
On April 17, Abbas sent Netanyahu a letter that his negotiator Nabil Shaath said was meant to challenge the Israeli leader over the collapse of the peace process and “put Mr Netanyahu on the spot.”
In it, Abbas asked Israel to outline “as soon as possible” its positions on four key issues: the principle of a two-state solution based on pre-1967 lines, halting settlement activity, releasing all Palestinian prisoners and revoking all decisions that undermine bilateral agreements since 2000.
“We stand ready to immediately resume negotiations the minute we receive your positive response on these points,” he wrote.
Israel has said it wants negotiations without preconditions.
In January, negotiators from both sides held five exploratory meetings in a bid to find a way to resume dialogue, but they ended inconclusively.
Previously, Netanyahu’s office said that in his response to Abbas he would offer to raise the level of contacts with the Palestinians to that of direct talks between the leaders.
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat has already warned that in the absence of a favourable response from Netanyahu, Abbas would renew his campaign for UN membership for a Palestinian state “in the General Assembly, in the Security Council and in all other UN bodies.
Since Abbas sent his letter, Netanyahu has struck a surprise deal with the opposition Kadima party to form a new, broad coalition government.
Tuesday’s coalition deal involves a commitment to renew the peace process.
Netanyahu said he hoped its establishment will encourage the Palestinians back to the negotiating table after a hiatus of more than 20 months.
“I hope Abbas will use this opportunity to resume the peace negotiations. I don’t know how you advance negotiations without engaging in them,” he said.
And Abbas said Israel’s new government should renew efforts to seek peace.
“We call on the Israeli government to seize the occasion of the enlargement of the coalition to speed up the achievement of a peace deal with the Palestinian people and their leaders,” Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said.
But the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, gave a bleak assessment of the surprise coalition agreement.
“The formation of the national unity Israeli government represents a grave threat to the Gaza Strip and strikes a blow to Abbas’s project of negotiations,” said Yusef al-Rizq, the political adviser to Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya.
The Palestinians have refused to restart direct talks unless Israel freezes settlement construction and agrees to a framework for discussions on borders that is based on the lines that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War.