JERUSALEM – An Israeli envoy met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday and delivered a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayahu detailing his government's stance on stalled peace negotiations.
Yitzhak Molcho held talks with Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinians' government. The modest exchange was the highest-level communication between the Palestinians and Israelis in months.
Netanyahu's office later issued a joint statement that said that "Israel and the Palestinian Authority are committed to achieving peace and the sides hope that the exchange of letters between President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu will further this goal."
Israeli media reported that Israel had called for renewed peace talks without preconditions. Palestinians are demanding that Israel cease settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas they claim as part of their future state, before talks can begin.
Israel has frequently called for peace talks to resume. Israel says settlements should be resolved along with other core issues through negotiations.
The communication by letter demonstrates how thoroughly negotiations to create an independent Palestinian state have fallen apart. The last effort was four months ago, but preliminary meetings between Israeli and Palestinian officials in the Jordanian capital Amman stalled.
Also, Palestinian officials said Egyptian mediators are trying to work out a solution with Israelis and Palestinians to end a mass hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. An Israeli official confirmed talks were taking place but would not elaborate.
The officials requested anonymity, because of the matter's sensitivity. Egyptian officials weren't immediately available for comment.
Some 1,600 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails are on hunger strike to demand better conditions and to put an end to detention without trial. The Egyptian-brokered talks mark the first time that substantive negotiations have been reported to be under way to defuse the protest since it began weeks, and in some cases months, ago.
Two men, Thaer Halahleh and Bilal Diab, have been on strike for more than 70 days. Both are members of Islamic Jihad, a violent Palestinian militant group that has killed hundreds and maimed many more in suicide bombings, shootings and other attacks.
It is not clear whether Halhaleh and Diab were involved in any militant activity because they are being held under "administrative detention," a policy that can keep some Palestinian prisoners in custody for months — even years — without charges. Israel has defended administrative detentions as a necessary tool to stop militant activity.
According to prison officials, at least 1,600 of the 4,600 Palestinians held by Israel are refusing food. Palestinians say about 2,500 prisoners are taking part in the hunger strike.
Israel is hesitant to clinch a deal with the prisoners, fearing it will encourage more strikes. Many of the Palestinians striking have been convicted of involvement in deadly attacks against civilians.
Israel's prisons service says the striking Palestinians are under constant medical supervision and are in stable condition.