Israeli and Palestinian leaders agree to meeting ‘in principle’

Palestinian residents choose pieces of clothing from a Turkish aid shipment, in Gaza City. Picture: AP

Palestinian residents choose pieces of clothing from a Turkish aid shipment, in Gaza City. Picture: AP

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Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced yesterday that the Israeli and the Palestinian leaders have agreed “in principle” to meet in Moscow for talks in what the Russians hope will relaunch the Mideast peace process after more than a two-year break.

The comments indicate that Russia is pushing forward with its attempt to become a peace broker after a setback earlier in the week. On Tuesday, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, said a meeting scheduled in Moscow this week had been delayed at Israel’s request.

While bringing the men together would represent an accomplishment for Moscow, a diplomatic breakthrough seems unlikely.

Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remain far apart on key issues, and their differences have prevented meaningful talks since Netanyahu took office in 2009.

The last round of peace talks broke down two and a half years ago, with no progress reported during months of negotiations brokered by the United States. The Palestinian leader has demanded that Israel halt settlement construction on occupied lands claimed by the Palestinians and carry out a prisoner release that was promised during the last round of talks.

Netanyahu has rejected the terms and said the meeting should take place without conditions.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said yesterday that Abbas and Netanyahu had accepted an invitation to meet in the Russian capital, but a date has not been set yet. There also was no word on whether the two had settled on an agenda for the meeting – the key stumbling block in preparations.

“The most important thing is to pick the right timing,” Zakharova said. “Intensive contacts on this are ongoing.”

During a visit to Poland on Tuesday, Abbas said a meeting in Moscow had been scheduled this week, but that Israel had delayed it at the last minute. Abbas and Netanyahu exchanged a brief handshake last year at a global climate change conference in Paris but have not held a public working meeting since 2010.

“If the Palestinian Authority can say with one voice that they are willing to meet without preconditions, then Prime Minister Netanyahu will meet President Abbas,” said the Israeli leader’s spokesman, David Keyes.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian high court in Ramallah has ordered the suspension of local elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip scheduled for 8 October.

The elections would have been the first democratic exercise in the Palestinian territories in a decade but cannot go ahead after disputes between the rival Fatah and Hamas groups over candidate lists as well as the inability to hold the vote in East Jerusalem, which has been annexed by Israel.

“Elections can’t take place in one place and not the other,” the presiding judge of the Ramallah court said in his ruling.

“The election can’t take place in Jerusalem and its neighbourhoods. Also, there are problems with the formation of courts in Gaza … Therefore, the court decides to stop the election.”

Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, boycotted the last Palestinian municipal elections in 2012, but was due to participate this year. Fatah and Hamas have not contested an election since 2006 parliamentary polls, which Hamas won. This year’s vote was planned with 81-year-old president Mahmoud Abbas under heavy political pressure as opinion polls suggested most Palestinians would like him to step down.

Yesterday’s ruling follows court submissions by Hamas in Gaza against party lists drawn up by Fatah.

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