Low on enthusiasm, the Palestinians failed to field their Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, in the opening move to revive talks with Israel centred around the formation of an independent and viable Palestinian state.

Instead of the Palestinian Premier on Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced the embarrassment of receiving at his Jerusalem residence, officials much lower in the Palestinian hierarchy — chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and Palestinian intelligence chief Majed Faraj.

During their meeting that lasted for one hour and 20 minutes, the Palestinian side handed over to Mr. Netanyahu a five-page letter from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, “the document contained no new messages but also did not contain an explicit threat by the Palestinians to dissolve the Palestinian Authority in light of the current stalemate”. However, the letter demanded that Israel should halt construction of settlements in the West Bank, which it had seized during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Mr. Netanyahu's special adviser Isaac Molho, who participated in the Tuesday meeting, will travel within the next two weeks to Ramallah and convey Israel's detailed response to Mr. Abbas' letter.

Analysts point out that in order to advance the talks, the Israeli side may have to spell out their country's position on the borders of a future Palestinians state, as well as the ground rules that would guarantee Israeli security. The Israeli-Palestinian talks of the past have failed to achieve a breakthrough on the right to return of Palestinians displaced in earlier Arab-Israeli conflicts. Observers say the Israeli side may well insist, in its response to the letter by Mr. Abbas, that the Palestinians unambiguously recognise the status of Israel as a Jewish state.

Mr. Fayyad's absence also seemed to reveal fault-lines within the Palestinian leadership. The Associated Press reported that Mr. Fayyad had told his colleagues that he was withdrawing from the meeting because of differences over the content of the letter. Besides, an engagement with Israel at this juncture would be particularly ill-timed because more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners are on hunger strike seeking an improvement in the condition of Israeli jails.

In Gaza, the Hamas which controls the coastal strip said that Mr. Abbas' letter was a “trick” to fool the Palestinian people.

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