Israel’s chief negotiator on Saturday went to Ramallah to hand over a letter from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, sources on both sides said.
The letter, which covered issues relating to the moribund peace process, was in answer to a message in the middle of last month from Abbas to Netanyahu in which he aired his grievances over the stalled negotiations.
Netanyahu’s chief negotiator, Yitzhak Molcho, delivered the letter shortly after 9pm, according to a source in Abbas’s office.
The letter’s contents were not made public.
Delivery of the letter was confirmed by Netanyahu’s office in a statement, which said: “Israel and the Palestinian Authority are committed to reaching peace and the parties agree that the exchange of letters between president Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu will contribute to that.”
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.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat has already warned that in the absence of a favorable 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 broad coalition government, with the agreement envisaging steps 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.