Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to resume peace talks with Israel only after U.S. 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 told the Associated Press on Saturday.
A Western official, however, later denied that the '67 lines would be the basis of negotiations.
The Palestinian officials, both of whom are close to the Palestinian leader and 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 officials said on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief the media.
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.
But other PA officials were not so sure Abbas had received such a written guarantee.
"Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is going to resume negotiations based on verbal promises. He has no guarantees that a Palestinian state will be formed on the basis of the 1967 borders, that there will be a settlement freeze or that our prisoners will be released," a senior official in Ramallah told Israel Hayom on Saturday.
Arab media outlets meanwhile quoted an official in the Palestinian Authority president's inner circle, who said the return to peace talks was made possible only thanks to a plan, delineated in a personal letter from Kerry to Abbas, which had Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu make significant concessions regarding their preconditions, without having to announce them publicly. Some reports even quoted senior Palestinian officials as saying that the letter contained a guarantee from Kerry that the peace talks will be based on the 1967 lines, something which Jerusalem has denied.
A senior Palestinian source also told i24News that Kerry threatened to suspend aid unless the Palestinians agreed to renewed talks with Israel.
Hamas released a statement denouncing the negotiations, attacking Kerry and Abbas and claiming the Palestinian Authority president had no authority to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people.
"Abbas has no legitimacy, his stance goes against Palestinian nation's belief that there can be no negotiations with the Zionist entity. Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have no authority to deal on behalf of the Palestinians and any negotiation carried out in the name of the Palestinian people without authority is illegitimate," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
The Arab world had mixed reactions over the weekend to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's Friday announcement regarding the renewal of the Israel-Palestinian peace talks, with many among the Palestinians expressing discontent.
The Arab League praised the announcement. According to a statement released by Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby, the league nations support the Palestinian demand for an independent nation based on the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital, and that the Arab nations' peace initiative is still valid and on the table.
Egypt and Jordan also expressed their support for the talks. "Egypt praises the two parties' decision to return to the negotiating table and will continue to support the Palestinians' rightful demand to an independent nation based on 1967 borders whose capital is east Jerusalem," Egypt's newly appointed Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy said on behalf of the Egyptian government.