Despite Netanyahu’s expressed willingness to deal with all core issues, sources close to the prime minister said he is most eager to deal with the refugee issue, with recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and security arrangements in a future Palestinian state. Nonetheless, the expectation is that borders and security arrangements will be the first two issues to be tackled. [emphasis added]
It could, of course, be part of Netanyahu’s continued efforts to position himself as the one most eager for peace negotiations (with, by implication, the Palestinians positioned as the hold-outs). It could be the view, possibly based on Erekat’s recent op ed on the refugee issue, that the Palestinians will take a hard line on the refugee issue that is viewed as unrealistic by the US and Europeans, and hence face the brunt of external pressures. Given that the Palestinian side has always been reluctant to signal its willingness to make concessions on refugees until it has gains to show on other issues (borders, settlements, Jerusalem), perhaps it is designed to get the process mired quickly in deadlock. Or perhaps it means nothing at all.
What it doesn’t mean, I’m quite sure, is a return to the somewhat more flexible position on the refugee issue shown by Israeli negotiators at Taba in January 2001.