A minister from the Palestinian Authority has said that they are ready to talk with the Israelis as soon as tomorrow, but talks need to take place in a healthy environment with confidence-building measures.
Mohammad Shtayyeh, minister for the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, told Today's Zaman that those measures include freezing Israeli settlements, at the Halifax International Security Forum, where decision makers and experts gathered on Nov. 18-20 to discuss a variety of security-related issues.
“We want Israel to totally freeze settlements in all Palestinian territories, release Palestinian prisoners and stop incursions into Palestinian territories. Then we need to agree upon what to talk about,” he said, adding that Israelis concentrate only on security.
“We want to talk about everything. The peace process is about everything. Unless we solve all the problems, we will never solve anything,” he said. “We and the Israelis should be reading from the same book,” he continued.
Direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis ended in September 2010 as the 10-month Israeli freeze on settlement construction was nearing its expiration date and the sides had failed to reach an agreement. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stated at the time that he would abandon the negotiations if settlement construction was restarted, and it was.
Shtayyeh said that they are now looking forward to a meeting between President Abbas and the Hamas leadership on Nov. 25. “We are hopeful that reconciliation with Hamas will be complete,” he said.
Asked what is expected of that meeting, he said they expect progress in three main areas, and one of them relates to their political programs. “We and Hamas have to agree on what we want. We want a two-state solution on the borders of 1967. We want to do this in a peaceful way. We want to have Palestinian unity,” he said. The second issue is about having a national government, and the third one is the values.
“We want to agree on certain values. On top of those values comes the democratic character of the Palestinian Authority. Therefore, we need elections to take place by the middle of next year,” he said and added that it is important for the Palestinians that Israel facilitates the elections next year.
“We need to have elections in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, which Israel fully controls,” he said.
Palestinians in the West Bank need a special permit to enter Jerusalem, unlike Israeli settlers living in the territory, who can reach the city on Israeli buses traveling on Israel-controlled roads. According to Israeli officials, travel restrictions on Palestinians are necessary to prevent militants from entering Israel or West Bank settlements to stage attacks.
Fatah and Hamas signed a unity agreement in April of this year and announced plans to form a joint government. Israel responded by temporarily freezing the transfer of customs funds Israel collects for the Palestinian Authority, but released them following guarantees that the money would not go to Hamas. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the Palestinian Authority that it would have to choose between peace with Israel or peace with Hamas.
In the meantime, Israel sped up the construction of new settlements after the Palestinians last month won full membership in the UN cultural heritage agency, UNESCO, as part of their drive for statehood.
“The UN is a multilateral forum that has 193 countries. We are going to tell the international community that there are problems in the negotiations and that somebody needs to come and help,” Minister Shtayyeh said.