JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's opposition leader on Tuesday warned that a new Palestinian uprising could be looming after a recent spate of violence and called on both sides to reduce tensions and restart peace talks.
The appeal came during a meeting in the West Bank with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a rare face-to-face encounter after a more than yearlong diplomatic standstill.
Officials on both sides said that Abbas initiated the meeting with Isaac Herzog, leader of the opposition Zionist Union, in response to the violence of recent weeks.
Addressing reporters at Abbas' West Bank headquarters in Ramallah, Herzog said the two men held an "in-depth" discussion that lasted more than an hour.
He said they agreed "first and foremost" that a new "intifada," or uprising, must be prevented.
"We have agreed that in order to prevent a third intifada we must combat terror on the one hand aggressively, and on the other hand move toward a diplomatic process," he said. "We must ignite the process yet again and give it another effort."
After the meeting, Herzog wrote on his Facebook page that he believed a deal could be reached within two years if there was sufficient political will.
For now, the odds of bringing Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu together for a meeting — much less restarting peace talks — appear virtually nonexistent.
Israel and the Palestinians have held on-again, off-again peace talks over the past two decades, and the latest round of U.S.-brokered negotiations broke down more than a year ago with little progress.
The U.S. is not expected to resume peace efforts until after a congressional vote on the international community's Iranian nuclear deal. Netanyahu bitterly opposes the deal, and with U.S.-Israel ties suffering, the prospects for any new U.S. diplomatic initiative seem poor.
Even if the U.S. manages to restart talks, the gaps between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders are so vast that a deal is unlikely. The Palestinians seek the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza — territories captured by Israel in 1967 — for a future state. Netanyahu opposes a return to Israel's pre-1967 lines and rejects any withdrawal from east Jerusalem, the Palestinians' hoped-for capital. The area is home to key Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites.
Amid this diplomatic vacuum, violence has been rising since a firebombing attack by suspected Jewish extremists in the West Bank killed an 18-month-old toddler and his father last month. Since then, there have been several Palestinian stabbing attacks on Israelis and a firebombing of an Israeli car. Three suspected attackers have been killed, including a Palestinian man who stabbed an Israeli policeman in the West Bank on Monday. Hundreds of people attended the 25-year-old Palestinian man's funeral Tuesday.
Adding to the tension is the fate of a Palestinian detainee on hunger strike for more than 60 days. Mohammed Allan woke up on Tuesday after he slipped into unconsciousness on Friday. Allan vowed to keep fasting until Israel releases him. Israel says he is being held for his activities in the Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian group which has carried out numerous attacks against civilians. Israel worries that violence could erupt if Allan dies.
While the Israeli military does not expect the situation to deteriorate into the heavy fighting that characterized the two previous Palestinian uprisings, there are concerns on both sides that things could worsen.
Abbas did not join Herzog during his address to reporters. But in a statement, the Palestinian leader, an outspoken critic of violence, affirmed his commitment to reaching a peace deal with Israel.
It was Abbas' first meeting with Herzog since Israeli elections last March. Tuesday's meeting appeared to be an effort by Abbas to reassure the Israeli public that he is trying to preserve calm.
Abbas' forces have arrested or questioned dozens of members of the rival Hamas militant group in recent weeks, according to Hamas.
Aides to Abbas say the Palestinian leader has grown frustrated over the dire state of peace efforts and is considering resigning. But the 80-year-old Abbas has made similar threats in the past.
His aides say Abbas is especially concerned about reports that Israel has been holding secret contacts with Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. Abbas fears that such contacts could lead to an accommodation between the bitter enemies that could hinder future peace efforts by solidifying Hamas' hold on Gaza.
By meeting the Israeli opposition leader Tuesday, Abbas appeared to be trying to send a message that Netanyahu — not the Palestinians — is preventing peace efforts from resuming.