Israeli envoy Yitzhak Molcho met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah Saturday night. Following the meeting, during which the envoy handed Abbas a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the possibility of substantive talks, the sides issued a joint statement saying "Israel and the Palestinian Authority are committed to achieving peace, and the sides hope the exchange of letters between President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu will contribute to this."
Molcho's letter apparently contained a response to a note Palestinian negotiators gave Netanyahu last month clarifying their positions if peace talks were to resume.
"It is doubtful that the missives being exchanged between the sides will change the situation on the diplomatic front," an Israeli official who is familiar with content of the letters said last month.
Abbas recently said he would agree to resume talks if Netanyahu would offer "anything promising or positive." Speaking to Reuters after Netanyahu announced a broad coalition that will strengthen the Israeli leader's hand, the Palestinian president said Netanyahu had to realize that Israeli settlements in the West Bank were destroying hopes of peace and must cease.
Abbas said it was still too early to comment directly on the new Israeli coalition, which saw Israel's centrist opposition Kadima party join Netanyahu's government.
During Saturday's meeting in Ramallah with Molcho, Abbas also raised the issue of the Palestinian prisoners who launched a hunger strike on April 17 to protest their incarceration conditions in Israel. The Palestinian president called on Israel to accept the inmates' demands, including an end to solitary confinement and more family visits.
Abbas also reiterated his call to free all Palestinian prisoners who were arrested by Israel prior to the signing of the Oslo Accords. During the meeting, he urged Israel to halt all settlement construction, including in east Jerusalem, and accept the two-state paradigm.
Last week Abbas told Reuters that the death of any one of the hundreds of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israel would be a "disaster" and could trigger a backlash that might slip out of control.
"It is very dangerous," Abbas told Reuters on a day when the Red Cross urged Israel to transfer to hospital six detainees who it said were close to death after not eating for two months.
"If anybody dies today or tomorrow or after a week it would be a disaster and no one could control the situation," he said. "I told the Israelis and the Americans if they do not find a solution for this hunger strike immediately, they will be committing a crime."
Attila Somfalvi contributed to the report