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Netanyahu urges Palestinians to start talks, and stay at them

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 Itongadol.- Amid reports that Israeli-Palestinian talks are on the immediate horizon, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu shifted the message Tuesday from calling on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the negotiating table, to calling on him not to bolt once he is there.

At the outset of a meeting with visiting Georgian President Bidzina Ivanishvili, Netanyahu said that Israel\’s "hope" was for a true peace that could only come through direct talks without preconditions.

Netanyahu, who said he was wiling to enter those types of talks and hoped that Palestinians were willing as well, added that the goal was not only to checkmark that talks have begun.

Netanyahu said his goal was to remain in the talks and continue with them for an extended period to try and "grapple with all the issues and come to an agreement that resolves the fundamental issues in the conflict."

Netanyahu, concerned that Abbas will enter the talks but then leave them soon after as he did in September 2010 and again during low level talks with Israel in Jordan in 2012, said these negotiations will take time, determination and "a systematic approach." He said this was Israel\’s approach and "I hope it\’s theirs too."

The prime minister made his comments amid reports in Israeli media that he is willing to release prisoners jailed prior to the Oslo Accords and officially freeze settlement construction outside of the main blocs in order to help restart the peace process.

Hebrew daily Ma\’ariv quoted Western diplomats as saying that in return, Abbas will give up his main precondition to start talks based on the 1967 lines.

The diplomats say this plan, led by US Secretary of State John Kerry, is meant to allow each of the leaders to save face publicly and appear as if they did not have to back out of their positions.

Netanyahu sees the release of the prisoners as a gesture to the Palestinians, rather than a concession, while Abbas could claim this as a personal achievement to his credit, the diplomats are quoted as saying.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, however, denied knowledge of plans for such a gesture. Speaking to Army Radio, Erekat said he hadn\’t heard of the reported initiative to release prisoners, and stressed that negotiations would only begin when Netanyahu agrees to the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders.

Earlier this month, Fatah Central Committee member Hussein al-Sheikh told Israel Radio that the PA had asked Israel to release 120 Palestinian prisoners that have been jailed prior to the Oslo Accords.

The list of 120 names had been passed on to both Israel and to Kerry, and while the PA leadership was still awaiting answer, a few Israeli officials have expressed a "positive position" on the matter, according to al-Sheikh.

On Monday, Jerusalem noted an achievement to its credit when the EU decided not to issue detailed conclusions critical of Israel, that could undermine Kerry\’s efforts and signal to Palestinians that other routes for the formation of a Palestinian state are available.

Kerry is expected to return to Israel and the Palestinian Authority later this week for his fifth visit in four months, to once again try to bring the two sides to the negotiating table.

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