The government stands by its decision not to conduct peace talks with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, officials said on Tuesday amid renewed attempts at restarting some kind of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue in the wake of the fighting in Gaza.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas plans to present a new diplomatic initiative to Arab foreign ministers during their meeting in Cairo on September 7, Mahmoud al-Habbash, Abbas’s adviser on religious affairs and chief of the PA religious courts, told the Jordanian newspaper Al-Ghad. The plan envisages a full Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 lines within a period that does not exceed three years, a senior PA official was quoted Tuesday as saying.
The plan calls for the Israelis and Palestinians to resume the peace talks within nine months, the official said.
“President Abbas is keen to obtain Arab support for his plan,” Habbash said.
The first three months of the negotiations would be devoted to drawing the borders of the future Palestinian state, after which the two sides would proceed to discuss final-status issues pertaining to refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, water and security, he said.
“The talks will begin with the borders, during which time there will be a freeze of settlement construction and the release of the fourth and final batch of prisoners incarcerated before the signing of the Oslo Accords, who were supposed to be freed last March,” Habbash added.
If Israel does not accept Abbas’s initiative, the Palestinians will resort to “diplomatic and political measures to impose peace,” he warned.
The PA’s options include joining international treaties and conventions, including signing the Rome Statute as first step toward membership in the International Criminal Court, Habbash said.
Abbas has dispatched chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat and PA General Intelligence Service head Majed Faraj to Washington to brief US Secretary of State John Kerry on the initiative.
Abbas said recently that he does not expect the Americans to like his plan.
An Israeli government official said that the diplomatic focus should be on the Gaza Strip, and that “in many ways the ability to get things moving in the right direction in Gaza will be a test case for the Palestinian Authority. If they would succeed in reestablishing a security presence in Gaza, that would be an important example that could then create a new dynamic.”
The PA’s inability up to this point to confront Hamas terrorism, and Fatah’s political alliance with Hamas, “remains a serious problem,” the Israeli official sad.
Relating to calls to leverage the fighting in Gaza into a resumption of peace talks, the official said that Jerusalem wants a peace process, “but it has to be a process not based on illusions, but reality.”
It is important, the official said, that the PA act in a way that is conducive to a diplomatic process.
“If we go back to the same old game – exploiting automatic majority in the UN for one-sided resolutions condemning Israel – that is obviously not a mood that would be conducive to moving forward,” he said.
Going this route would “condemn” the Palestinians to the status quo, he added.
“If the PA shows it is serious about peace in word and deed, and as a first step would act seriously in Gaza, that could create a whole new dynamic,” the official said.
Asked whether Israel’s declaration on Sunday of 400 hectares in Gush Etzion as state land, a move that has drawn criticism from around the world, is conducive to a peace process, the official said that despite the perception, “no one has made any decision to build anything yet.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Tuesday warned that a diplomatic process with the Palestinians that would lead to Israel pulling forces out of the West Bank would lead to rockets and mortar shells being fired at Ben-Gurion Airport.
Speaking at the Calcalist National Conference in Tel Aviv, Ya’alon said that whenever the IDF pulled out its forces from Palestinian areas, whether areas of the West Bank under the Oslo agreements or the 2005 Gaza disengagement, terrorism brewed. Israel paid a heavy price to retake West Bank cities in 2003’s Operation Defensive Shield operation in order to restore calm during the second intifada. In Gaza, even when the PA was in charge, Hamas sprouted beneath it and eventually took over, he said.
Instead of rushing to withdraw from the West Bank, Israel should pursue an “outside the box” diplomatic process including “moderate” Arab states that share Israel’s strategic goals, Ya’alon said. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states (except Qatar) could align against Islamist terrorism, the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran, he said.
Meanwhile, Hamas called on Abbas to pull out of the peace process with Israel “immediately.”
Abbas should instead seek to reunite the Palestinians and “achieve a comprehensive national strategy in response to the occupation’s decision to confiscate Palestinian lands,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.