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Editorial: Waiting on Abbas

Secretary of State John Kerry is in Israel for the fifth time during his tenure as America’s top diplomat. This visit, like the previous four, is aimed at restarting the stalled peace process and ultimately finding a path toward an agreement.

This laudable effort to put an end to the decades-old conflict by bringing the Israelis and Palestinians together for direct talks is the appropriate and proper role that the United States should play. Direct talks without preconditions are the only way to reach genuine peace resulting in a two-state solution with a Jewish state of Israel living side-by-side in peace and security next to a non-militarized Palestinian state.

Unfortunately, the effort to relaunch the peace process has been stymied by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. For nearly three years, Abbas has imposed preconditions that he demands be met before restarting negotiations.

Abbas’ preconditions—including the release of prisoners with blood on their hands and the halting of construction both in the West Bank settlements and in Israel’s capital—have only served to hold the peace process hostage. The Palestinian leader is seeking to advance his goals in the negotiations before they even begin, and expects to be rewarded for just agreeing to enter into negotiations to which the Palestinians have committed themselves for nearly two decades.

President Obama and Secretary Kerry have made repeated appeals to Abbas to drop these demands and finally reengage in the process. But time and again, he has refused.

Israel has also offered important political and economic incentives to the PA to persuade Abbas to return to the talks. The Israelis have reportedly imposed an unofficial freeze on all new housing projects in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This step comes after Israel previously undertook an unprecedented 10-month settlement freeze beginning in November 2009. Abbas refused Israel’s call for talks until its final month – only to cynically claim that its expiration would make it impossible for him to continue.

Israel has also taken major steps to bolster the Palestinian economy and improve Palestinian movement in the West Bank. Prime Minister Netanyahu even offered to free 50 Palestinian prisoners convicted of carrying out terrorist attacks prior to the Oslo Accords when peace talks resume.

Despite these efforts, Abbas has continued to refuse to talk, and in fact threatens to take further unilateral steps at the United Nations to advance Palestinian statehood despite the Palestinian commitment to resolve all disputes through negotiations.

Abbas’s repeated rejection of American efforts and Israeli overtures is preventing the resumption of peace negotiations. It is time for Abbas to drop his unwarranted preconditions and accept Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call for an immediate return to direct talks.