RAMALLAH, West Bank — In a rare meeting with Israeli politicians, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority expressed optimism on Monday that a peace agreement could be reached in the nine months allotted to the current round of negotiations, and he pointedly avoided questions that have proved provocative in the past.
Abbas, hosting 10 left-wing members of the Israeli Parliament at his headquarters here, did not use the word "occupation" during lengthy remarks in front of dozens of reporters and referred only briefly to settlements. He condemned violence against civilians, including a shooting on Saturday night that wounded a 9-year-old Israeli girl in a West Bank settlement, and offered condolences to the family of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a Torah sage who died Monday and who had made incendiary comments about Palestinians, including Abbas.
His conciliatory tone was a sharp contrast to a strident speech the night before by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel that many analysts said had sought to appease conservatives skeptical of the peace talks. Netanyahu derisively recounted the support that a long-ago Palestinian mufti of Jerusalem provided the Nazis and said that there could be an agreement only if the Palestinian leadership recognizes Israel as a Jewish state, a notion it has long rejected.
But when asked Monday about such recognition, after the news cameras were gone, Abbas demurred rather than repeat his stock answers about Israel's being able to describe itself as it wishes or seek such definition at the United Nations. He did not invoke the Palestinian refugees' right of return to the land they left when Israel became a state in 1948, nor mention the plight of Arab citizens of Israel.
The unusual meeting in Ramallah was held by Abbas and Hilik Bar, the Labor lawmaker who headed the Israeli delegation.
Abbas told guests that the U.N. push was not an alternative to talks with Israel because "we know the problem between us will only be solved in negotiations." Though Abbas refused to say anything specific about the negotiations, Bar, who heads a 40-member Parliament caucus devoted to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said he was surprised by the upbeat tone.
"I didn't think it was going in a good direction," Bar said. "To hear it from Abbas, it's meaningful."