Skip To Content
Breaking News

Netanyahu and Abbas Each Give a Little on Day One of Talks

Tell us what you want. Now listen to what your partner wants. Now tell us what your partner wants.

In slow, almost excruciating increments, talks between Israelis and Palestinians are taking on the dimensions of a counseling session moderated by the United States.

Heading into a White House dinner Wednesday evening with President Obama and the Jordanian and Egyptian leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas outlined their bottom lines: security and recognition for the Jewish state, settlement halts and final-status negotiations for Abbas.

By mid-morning Thursday, when they met in the upper reaches of the U.S. State Department beneath the watchful eye of a portrait of Benjamin Franklin in the cavernous room named for the first U.S. secretary of state, it was clear that some mediation had taken place.

Netanyahu was more forthcoming about final-status talks, if not settlements. Abbas was just as adamant about Israeli concessions but was more forthcoming about understanding Israel’s security needs. A little later on, George Mitchell, the top U.S. envoy to the region, took a break from talks with the two leaders to announce that they had agreed to meet in their home region in two weeks, around Sept. 14 or 15, and to follow up with meetings every two weeks afterward. Mitchell said the first goal was to reach a “framework agreement” that would outline the necessary compromises, and then work out the details that would flesh out a full agreement. Setting a cordial tone was key, he said.

“We have encouraged the parties to be positive in their outlook and in their actions,” Mitchell said.

In her opening remarks at a news conference Thursday morning with the two leaders, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it sound as if half the battle was getting to the point of talking.

“I know the decision to sit at this table was not easy,” Clinton said. “We understand the suspicion and skepticism that so many feel, worn out after years of conflict and frustration.”

But Clinton pressed the parties to get to the core issues – the fate Jerusalem, the Palestinian-Israeli borders, the question of Palestinian refugees – quickly. “We are convinced that if you move forward in good faith and do not waver on behalf of your people, we can resolve all of the core issues within one year,” she said.

That remains to be seen, of course. Critics have said that lip service and photo ops may be the only achievement to come out of this summit and the negotiations that follow. For the time being, merely holding a meeting to launch talks gives each leader something to take back home. Obama will get credit for relaunching direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis after a two-year hiatus. Netanyahu will be able to argue to the world and to the Israeli public that he’s interested in serious negotiations. If there are gains for the Palestinians, Abbas will be able to show the Palestinians they can wring concessions from Israel by talking, not by violence of the Hamas variety.

Netanyahu, who until now has insisted that security and incitement are his more immediate priorities, suggested he’s interested in more than the appearance of talks and that he’s ready to go to the more vexing core issues.

“The core issues that you described, Madam Secretary, are things we have disagreements on, but we have to get from disagreements to agreement,” he said at Thursday’s news conference.

Netanyahu, who on Wednesday evening recognized a Palestinian claim to the land of Israel – a breakthrough for the scion of a family and tradition that for decades upheld an exclusive Jewish claim to the land – told Abbas that he “respects” the Palestinian right to sovereignty.

For his part, Abbas, whose remarks at the White House dinner constituted a laundry list of Palestinian plaints, was expansive Thursday morning in acknowledging Israel’s security needs, especially in the wake of two terrorist attacks in two days that left four Israeli civilians dead, including a pregnant woman.

“We not only condemned them but also followed on the perpetrators and found the car that was used and arrested those who sold and bought the car,” he said, touting the performance of a Palestinian security service he said was still “young.” “Security is of essence, it is vital for both of us. We cannot allow for anyone to do anything that would undermine your security and our security.”

At the same time, each leader held their ground on significant differences that threaten, even at this early stage, to derail the talks. Abbas has threatened to bolt the talks unless Netanyahu extends a 10-month partial moratorium on settlement building that expires on Sept. 26; Netanyahu has indicated that he will let the moratorium lapse and will not reintroduce it until an agreement is in place.

Abbas gave no ground on Netanyahu’s demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, telling him that it was in enough in 1993 that Palestinians recognized Israel. Netanyahu holds that recognition of a Jewish claim is key to ending the Palestinian culture of incitement, which he says is a cause of terrorism.

“In this document we give enough to show our intentions are good,” Abbas said.

The meetings got started Thursday with a meeting of the two negotiating teams, and then broke up into one meeting between Mitchell, Clinton, Abbas and Netanyahu in Clinton’s office, and another between the negotiating teams to work out the details of the mid-September follow-up meeting. After that, Mitchell reported, Abbas and Netanyahu went into a face-to-face meeting.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.