Square one

Square one

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants to resume peace talks, but only if Israel freezes settlement construction for six months in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

There’s just one problem: Israel tried freezing all settlement construction activity in 2009, and nothing happened.

So why should this time be any different?

The Jerusalem Post reported that Abbas made his statement Sunday in Qatar during a meeting of Arab League nations in Doha.

“We want to discuss with you a mechanism that would lead to an Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian and Arab territories, including Jerusalem, the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails and halting settlement construction,” Abbas is reported as saying. “If this happens, there could be feasible negotiations. Also, we could return to the point where we stopped during the era of [former Israeli Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert’s government, when we put all the final status issues on the table. We reached many understandings over these issues.”

Abbas reportedly said the two sides had reached understandings on the borders, Jerusalem and the refugees.

If this sounds familiar, it should. In 2009, Netanyahu unilaterally froze settlement construction for 10 months in West Bank settlements (not Jerusalem). At the time, Haaretz reported him as saying, “We have been told by many of our friends that once Israel takes the first meaningful steps toward peace, the Palestinians and Arab states would respond.”

Well, they didn’t. In fact, they hardened their rhetoric. Hamas continued to stockpile weapons for use against the Jewish state while Abbas began planning his own end run around the peace process — seeking state recognition at the United Nations.

His strategy bore some fruit last month when the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to grant Palestine nonmember observer state status — a step short of full recognition.

Emboldened, Abbas now apparently hopes to restore his credibility as a peace partner, while adhering to his strategy of obtaining as many concessions as possible without actually negotiating.

That should be a nonstarter for Israel, and we’re sure it will be.

The only way to a true and lasting peace, which all people of good character should want, is peace talks without preconditions. But in his latest trial balloon from Doha, Abbas has made it clear he continues to hold the peace process hostage — no progress unless he first extracts certain gains.

That is not negotiating in good faith. We have issues with the way the Netanyahu government has handled the peace process in the past, but let’s be clear: Nothing can happen unless both sides start from square one. This jockeying for diplomatic leverage only creates mistrust. Starting the talks without preconditions is the only way to go.