Israel has no intention of acceding to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s call for a freeze of all construction in West Bank settlements and in east Jerusalem for three months, in order to resume direct negotiations with the PA, a senior government official said on Monday.
“We are not going to accept the Palestinian position on Jerusalem as a condition for entering the talks,” the official said.
Abbas, in an interview that appeared Sunday on The Guardian Web site, said he would be prepared to resume face-to-face talks if Israel froze all construction for three months and accepted the June 4, 1967, borders as the basis for land swaps.
“These are not preconditions, they are requirements in the road map,” he said. “If they are not prepared to do that, it means they don’t want a political solution.”
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But Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev cautioned the Palestinians about preaching about the road map.
“The Palestinians clearly fall short of their road map obligations, most recently on the difficult issue of incitement, and they should look in the mirror before accusing others,” he said.
Regev said that for 10 months, Israel has consistently called for the resumption of diplomatic negotiations without preconditions, and has taken a whole series of confidence-building measures to make the talks possible.
“In the same period of time,” Regev remarked, “the Palestinian leadership has unfortunately and consistently refused to re-engage in a political process. One has to ask how does one expect to achieve peace without talking. We are ready to talk, we have been for the last 10 moths, and the question is, are they?”
But Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry’s diplomatic-military bureau, said that direct talks should not be forced on anyone. “There is no alternative to direct talks,” he said, speaking at the 10th Herzliya Conference, “but if they fail, that could be worse than anything.”
Gilad said that the PA security forces were effectively fighting Hamas in the West Bank because of the trauma of losing Gaza to Hamas, which he called “Hamastan.”
But, he cautioned, “Hamas must disappear before peace can be reached.”
According to The Guardian, Abbas “may be poised” to accept US Mideast envoy George Mitchell’s idea of “proximity talks,” and the PA leader was expected to give Mitchell his answer on Thursday after holding discussions with key Arab and European leaders. Proximity talks, whereby Mitchell would shuttle between the Israeli and Palestinian delegations as a way to eventually enable direct negotiations, is believed to be something that Netanyahu would accept as well.
Abbas, in his interview, said “there will be no return to armed struggle. It will destroy our territories and our country.”
Regarding the PA’s security forces’ crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank, Abbas said, “We don’t want to imprison any political members of Hamas, but only people who provoke the security situation, even from Fatah.”
Abbas also backed Egypt’s decision to build an underground barrier on its border with Gaza to prevent smuggling through tunnels. “I support the wall,” he said. “It is the Egyptians’ sovereign right in their own country. Legitimate supplies should be brought through the legal crossings.”
Although Israeli government sources were unhappy with Abbas’s continued preconditions for talks, one official said his comment on the Egyptian wall was positive, as was his commitment not to return to the “armed struggle.”
Meanwhile, in what may be a small sign of a thaw in Israel’s relations with the PA, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is scheduled to appear on Tuesday evening at the Herzliya conference and to take part in a discussion with Defense Minister Ehud Barak called “Prospects of Peace: The Israeli-Palestinian Track.”
The discussion will follow another session that will feature Spanish
Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos, who arrived for talks on Monday.
Moratinos met with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman soon after his
arrival, and Lieberman gave him the report – “Gaza Operation
Investigations: Update” – that Israel presented to UN Secretary-General
Ban Ki-moon on Friday that dealt with some of the war crimes
allegations that appeared in the Goldstone Report.
Spain abstained in the UN General Assembly vote last year that endorsed the report.
“Israel is a democratic country that protects its citizens according to
international law,” Lieberman said. “The IDF is the most moral army in
the world, and this is manifest precisely in the way it deals with the
very worst terrorists, when the IDF does everything possible not to
harm innocent civilians whom Hamas uses as human shields.”