Israeli-Palestinian talks ended again Tuesday without any breakthrough on finding a formula to extend negotiations, as Jerusalem and Ramallah sparred publicly over conditions for continuing the diplomatic process past the April 29 deadline.
Speaking to a group of Israeli journalists in Ramallah, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas laid out his three conditions for continuing talks with Israel: that Israel release the fourth batch of Palestinian security prisoners, including Israeli-Arabs, and that none of them be deported; that Israel freeze all settlement construction; and that the first three months of the extended talks deal with the borders of a future Palestinian state.
During the meeting he expressed a willingness to pursue negotiations with Israel after the expiration of next Tuesday's deadline so as to discuss the possibility of extending the peace talks.
“We are talking all the time and we will continue to talk. We will call these ‘preparatory talks’ to extend the negotiations,” he said.
“The Americans asked us to extend the talks for another nine months and we agreed on condition that we draw the final borders of a Palestinian state,” Abbas continued. “If Israel really believes in the two-state solution, then let’s sit at the negotiating table and see where are Israel’s borders. Let’s determine where the borders of Israel and a Palestinian state are.”
Addressing the Israeli public, Abbas said: “We want peace, but don’t humiliate us because things can ultimately get out of control.”
Abbas cautioned that failure of the peace talks could lead to the dismantlement of the PA, making Israel responsible for the daily needs of the Palestinians in the fields of economy, education, health and security.
Abbas complained that the PA was functioning without real power or sovereignty, saying the PA doesn’t have political and economic independence.
“Any Israeli officer could come here and disperse this meeting by force because we don’t have any power or authority,” according to Abbas.
He said he had no intention to dissolve the PA, but warned that this could happen as a result of Israel’s policies.
“Israel’s policy toward us has stripped the Palestinian Authority of any power,” he said. “Therefore, whether the Palestinian Authority is dissolved or not is irrelevant.”
Abbas said that despite the crisis, the PA would continue to conduct security coordination with Israel.
“Even when there were no negotiations we continued to coordinate security to prevent bloodshed and anarchy,” he explained.
He reiterated his opposition to recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, saying it was up to the Israelis, and not the Palestinians, to determine the character of their state. He said that Israel’s founder and first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, said something smart – “the State of Israel for all its citizens.”
“I say the same thing: The State of Israel is for all its citizens,” the PA president proclaimed.
Abbas said he did not support violence even if the peace talks failed, remarking that he had always been opposed to an armed struggle against Israel. However, he supported the idea of a nonviolent popular struggle to express Palestinian views.
He added that he did not want settlers “in our territories.”
The settlers, he said, “can be our neighbors in the State of Israel.”
Soon after the meeting, diplomatic sources in Jerusalem rejected the Palestinian leader’s conditions.
First, they rejected the demand to freeze building in Jerusalem – although by stressing Jerusalem, they seemed to indicate a willingness to freeze building in the West Bank.
Second, the sources said that if the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) recommended that the convicted Palestinian terrorists to be released in the next prisoner released be deported to Gaza or abroad, this would be done.
“At no time did Israel say there would be no deportations,” the sources said, pointing out that some 200 prisoners released among the more than 1,000 who were set free for Gilad Schalit had been deported.
Regarding the Palestinian demand that the focus of the talks now be solely on borders, the sources said that Israel never agreed to this and always made it clear that all issues needed to be discussed.
Israel’s position has long been that the issue of borders cannot be divorced from other issues such as the character of the future Palestinian state and whether it will recognize Israel as a Jewish state, be demilitarized and agree to end the conflict and all claims against Israel.
A source in the Prime Minister’s Office said the bottom line of Abbas’s statements was that he was not interested in peace. “Those interested in peace do not, time after time, present conditions that he knows Israel cannot accept,” the source said.
“Abu Mazen [Abbas] wants to receive, without giving, and he will continue to do so until the international community demands that he demonstrate seriousness in the talks and a willingness to move forward.”
Referring to a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation currently underway, the source said that in parallel with Abbas’s declarations about peace, “he is holding talks with Hamas, which is known in the world as a terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews.”