- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 20, 2011

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad says that circumstances are “not ripe” for peace talks with Israel, arguing that the international community’s focus on getting Israelis and Palestinians back to the table is misguided.

“Let me be frank with you: My own assessment is that conditions are not ripe at this juncture for the resumption — a meaningful resumption — of talks,” Mr. Fayyad told attendees of the American Task Force on Palestine’s annual gala late Wednesday.

Mr. Fayyad said his outlook does not detract from the Palestinian determination to achieve a negotiated settlement with Israel.

But he questioned the wisdom of treating the resumption of negotiations as “a key objective of policy at this juncture,” saying that “all it’s likely to produce under current conditions is defensiveness on the part of the parties.”

Peace talks have more or less been frozen since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office in 2009. The Palestinians joined U.S.-sponsored peace talks in September 2010 but withdrew within weeks after the expiration of a 10-month Israeli moratorium on settlements in the West Bank.

The Middle East “Quartet” — the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia — last month issued a statement calling on the parties to resume negotiations within a month and to reach a comprehensive agreement by the end of 2012.

Mr. Fayyad said that any successful negotiations would need to operate within clearly defined guidelines, lambasting Mr. Netanyahu’s insistence that “all we need to do is sit down and talk.”

“It’s not for lack of talks that this process has not produced,” he said. “It’s precisely because those talks were attempted so many times before, but not on the basis of terms of reference that are really consistent with what is required to bring this conflict to an end.”

Mr. Fayyad did not speak directly about the recent Palestinian application for U.N. statehood recognition — a move the U.S. has promised to veto in the Security Council. But he acknowledged that “our relations with the United States are going through a period of strain” as a result.

Mr. Fayyad is rumored to be wary of the U.N. gambit. At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing last month, Rep. Elliot Engel, New York Democrat, claimed that Mr. Fayyad had told him “that he thinks the Palestinians going to the U.N. is the stupidest thing that they could possibly do.”