Israeli and Palestinian Statements about the “Damn Table”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made headlines this week when he called on Israel to “just get to the damn table.”

For those familiar with the positions staked by the Israeli and Palestinian governments, it was a peculiar statement. That’s because, while Israel has long pleaded with the Palestinians return to the negotiating table for peace talks, Palestinian leaders have insisted they won’t do so unless Israel first satisfies their preconditions.

Even after Israel in 2009 announced a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction, a dramatic gesture meant to satisfy Palestinian demands and convince them to meet with Israeli negotiators, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas avoided talks until just weeks before the moratorium was set to expire. And when the moratorium did expire, he again avoided the negotiating table.

In other words, whatever else may or may not be true, Israel has been waiting by the “damn table,” and Palestinian leaders have consistently refused to join them.

Below are recent statements by leaders, spokesmen and the press highlighting the sides’ respective positions. (This list is far from inclusive, and may be updated.)


Date                 Israeli Position Palestinian Position Third-Party Summary
May 29, 2009 “‘We can’t talk to the Arabs until Israel agrees to freeze settlements and recognize the two-state solution,’ he insisted in an interview. ‘Until then we can’t talk to anyone.'”
– Mahmoud Abbas to journalist Jackson Diehl
May 29, 2009 “‘I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements,’ he said. ‘Until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality . . . the people are living a normal life.'”
– Mahmoud Abbas to journalist Jackson Diehl

June 14, 2009

“I turn to you, our Palestinian neighbors, led by the Palestinian Authority, and I say: Let’s begin negotiations immediately without preconditions.”
– Benjamin Netanyahu
July 7, 2010
“I want to enter direct talks with the Palestinian leadership now. I call on President Mahmoud Abbas to meet me in the coming days to begin peace talks so that we can have and fashion a final peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors.” 
– Benjamin Netanyahu

July 28, 2010

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will tell the Arab League on Thursday indirect talks with Israel have not progressed enough to justify face-to-face peace negotiations, a Palestinian official said on Wednesday.

“‘Abbas will tell them that, until this moment, there is nothing to convince us to go to direct talks,’ the official told Reuters. ‘There is nothing new.'”
April 28, 2011
“Abbas says there is no point in talking peace while Israel builds homes on occupied territories claimed by the Palestinians, and he has made no secret about his unhappiness with Washington’s inability to halt settlement activity. Israel counters that the settlement issue should be discus sed in negotiations instead of being made a precondition.”
– Associated Press
May 24, 2011
“Israel is prepared to sit down today and negotiate peace with the Palestinian Authority.”
– Benjamin Netanyahu
June 22, 2011
“The Palestinians have refused to renew talks without a complete settlement freeze and are pursuing a unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state at the United Nations in September. Israel wants talks without preconditions and says the settlements should be one of the issues on the table.”
– Associated Press
Sept. 23, 2011
“President Abbas, why don’t you join me? We have to stop negotiating about the negotiations. Let’s just get on with it. Let’s negotiate peace.”
– Benjamin Netanyahu
Sept. 23, 2011
“‘I’m still here. He’s in town,’ Netanyahu said. ‘If he wants to come right now, to this hotel, or to the U.N. or to his hotel or to your studios. We should be able to proceed on negotiations. From my point of view, we’re ready.'”
Sept. 25, 2011
“… Abbas says there is no point in talking.”
– Associated Press
Sept. 26, 2011
“Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio on Sunday that although he had substantial reservations about the Quartet initiative, ‘I do think we should accept it, because it has at least one thing that is very positive: starting negotiations without preconditions.'”
– Washington Post 
“‘We have confirmed to everyone that we want to achieve our rights through peaceful means, through negotiations-but not just any negotiations,’ Abbas told a cheering crowd. ‘We will not accept [negotiations] until legitimacy is the foundation, and they cease settlement completely.'”
– Washington Post 
Oct. 2, 2011

“Israel welcomes the Quartet’s call for direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions, as called for by both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

“While Israel has some concerns, it will raise them at the appropriate time. Israel calls on the Palestinian Authority to do the same and to enter into direct negotiations without delay.”
– Prime Minister’s Media Advisor
Oct. 2, 2011

“Israeli spokesman Mark Regev urged the Palestinians to abandon the effort for statehood at the U.N. and return to the negotiating table.

“‘Israel is willing and has been willing for the immediate resumption of talks. We hope the Palestinian side will pick up the ball and we will indeed see a restarting of the Middle East peace process.'”
– Voice of America
Oct. 9, 2011
“An Israeli official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in line with government protocol, said Israel has been ‘repeatedly calling for the restart of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks withou t preconditions. We were ready yesterday, we are ready today and we will be ready tomorrow to restart the process.'”
– Associated Press
“Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said there would be ‘no problem’ to resume negotiations, if the Quartet could persuade Israel to curb settlement building. If not, ‘we would be making the mistake of negotiations for their own sake,’ she said.”
– Associated Press
Oct. 13, 2011
” …[Y]ou do have the Israelis saying that they’re willing, ready, and able to go into negotiations …”
– Hillary Clinton
Oct. 21, 2011
“‘If Netanyahu wants to resume negotiations, he has to say that settlement building will stop. Either it stops or it doesn’t stop,’ Erekat said.”
– Associated Press
Oct. 26, 2011

“‘Our demands are very clear and they will not change for any reason,’ said Shaath, who is also a leading member in President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement.

“Unless Israel complies with these conditions, he said, ‘we will not return to negotiations. There is just no use from them.'”
– Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Nov. 9, 2011
“‘The correct response from people who want to see peace move forward in the Middle East should be to tell the Palestinians that your U.N. strategy will not work and that it’s time for you to return to negotiations,’ said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev. ‘Israel is ready and we hope the Palestinians will rethink their positions.'”
– Associated Press
“The Palestinians say they will not return to the negotiating table unless Israel halts settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.”
– Associated Press
Nov. 14, 2011
“Abbas aide Saeb Erekat reiterated the Palestinian demand that first, Israel stop building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, occupied areas the Palestinians want for a future state. Israel rejects any preconditions for talks, and the government official renewed Israel’s call for direct talks between the two sides.
“– Associated Press

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