JERUSALEM — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to resume peace talks with Israel only after Secretary of State John Kerry gave him a letter guaranteeing that the basis of the negotiations will be Israel’s pre-1967 borders, two senior Palestinian officials said Saturday. A Western official, however, later denied that the ’67 lines would be the basis of negotiations.
The Palestinian officials, both of whom are privy to internal discussions, said the U.S. letter also stipulated that both sides are to refrain from taking any steps that would jeopardize the outcome of the talks. Israel is not to issue new tenders for Jewish settlements in the West Bank, while the Palestinians are not to pursue diplomatic action against Israel at any international organizations.
“The talks with Kerry were about to collapse, and the letter came as a lifeline in the last-minute bargaining,” one of the Palestinian officials said.
U.S. officials have said in the past that Kerry would reiterate standing American positions on the goals for renewed talks, including that a Palestinian state should be negotiated on the basis of Israel’s borders before the 1967 Mideast war, when Israel captured the Gaza Strip, West Bank and east Jerusalem.
After a round of intense shuttle diplomacy, Kerry announced Friday that Israel and the Palestinians had agreed on a basis for returning to the peace process, which broke down five years ago. The two sides are to meet — likely this week — to work out final details. Kerry would not give details. But Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of strategic and intelligence affairs, said Saturday that Israel would release an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners to help Kerry’s effort.