Israel, PA to Meet; PM Vows Referendum

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will meet in Washington this week for the first time in three years, "if everything goes as expected."

Kerry has been pushing hard for a resumption of talks, making six visits to the region since he became secretary of state earlier this year. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in Sunday's cabinet meeting that any agreement reached at the negotiating table involving the creation of  Palestinian state will be put to a national referendum.  It would be the first time in modern Israel's 65-year history that voters would have the final say in the outlines of a two-state solution.

"I believe that this is crucial," Netanayhu said.  "I don't believe that decisions such as this can be taken -- if a deal is reached -- with one coalition or another, but rather this thing needs to be brought to the nation to decide."

Netanyahu issued a statement Saturday describing the peace process as being in Israel's vital strategic interest.  The prime minister faces stiff resistance from within his governing coalition, and even within his own party, against conceding more territory to the Palestinians at the bargaining table.

The Palestinians under President Mahmoud Abbas have refused to recognize Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.  

The Palestinian Authority also insists that talks resume from a starting point of Israel returning to pre-1967 borders, essentially forfeiting the territory Israel conquered in the Six-Day war.  Israeli leaders have branded that a "non-starter."

Aides to Abbas told The Times of London that the Palestinian leader received a letter from Kerry stating that the 1967 borders would be the basis for negotiations and that Israel would enact a construction freeze in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).

That report has been denied by Israeli officials in Jerusalem. 

Palestinians have reportedly agreed not to carry out activities against Israel in international institutions for nine months.  That would include advancing their bid for statehood in the United Nations independent of the bargaining table.

Israel has agreed to release 85 Palestinian prisoners who have been held since before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.  Some of them were directly involved in the killing and wounding of Israelis.

Netanyahu described Israel's objectives in renewing talks with the Palestinians as "preventing the creation of a bi-national state between the Jordan River and the sea, which will endanger the future of the Jewish state, and preventing the creation of another Iranian-backed terror state within Israel's borders, which could no less endanger us."



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