Colombia’s Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin conveyed Israel’s conditional offer to freeze government construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, international media reported Friday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Holguin Wednesday that Israel is willing to freeze government construction on government (but not private) land in the West Bank in return for an agreement from President Abbas to resume direct peace talks.
According to Colombian news site El Tiempo, Holguin transmitted the message to Abbas. The Palestinian president has reportedly not yet responded to Netanyahu’s proposal.
Netanyahu specified that he was not offering to halt construction by private Israeli companies or construction on private land in the West Bank.
According to Israeli news source Haaretz, only a very small percentage of Israeli construction in the West Bank is carried out by the government itself, rendering Netanyahu’s offer more of a symbolic gesture than a real concession.
Palestinians argued that what the Israeli government refers to as “private construction” is, in most cases, actually carried out by private companies created by the Israeli government for that purpose.
Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos sent Holguin on a surprise visit to Israel earlier this week in hopes of facilitating communication between the two sides. The foreign minister met with the Israeli minister of defense and security minister Monday in Tel Aviv, then travelled to the Palestinian city of Ramallah Tuesday to speak with Abbas and the Palestinian foreign minister.
President Santos has also reportedly been in contact via telephone with both Netanyahu and Abbas.
Colombia’s mediation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority began October 11, when Abbas visited Colombia in an effort to persuade Colombia (currently a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council) to support Palestine’s bid for statehood at a Security Council vote.
Though the United States pledged that it would veto any such resolution, Colombia agreed to block the vote. President Santos defended Colombia’s decision to side with the United States and Israel, stating that the “only road” to peace is negotiation. He insisted that Colombia supports a two-state solution to the conflict.
“Our position has always been very clear,” said Santos. “We want the Palestinian state to exist; not by imposing a vote or a resolution, but rather the product of negotiation.”
The Palestinian president reportedly welcomed the support of the Colombian officials as a means for peace negotiations with Israel.
“We do not seek to isolate nor de-legitimize Israel; we want to live with Israel and to make peace,” Abbas said. “We hope that Colombia’s efforts are successful, and we can begin negotiations.”