Palestinian officials in Ramallah said Wednesday that they don’t rule out the possibility that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would agree to the extension of the peace talks with Israel after the nine-month deadline set by the US Administration expires at the end of April.
The officials said that US Secretary of State John Kerry has been exerting pressure on Abbas to agree to the extension of the talks at least until the end of the year.
Kerry and Abbas were scheduled to meet in the Jordanian capital of Amman late Wednesday to discuss ways of salvaging the peace process.
One official said that Abbas would agree to pursue the talks only if Israel fulfilled its commitment to release of the fourth batch of 26 Palestinian prisoners, slated for the end of this month. According to the official, Abbas has also demanded that Israel release jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine Secretary-General Ahmed Sa’dat and Fuad Shobaki, a former top PA security official.
Barghouti is serving a five life-term sentence for his role in terrorist attacks against Israel. Sa’dat is serving a prison term for his role in the assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi, while Shobaki was convicted for being behind the Karine A weapons ship that was intercepted by the Israel Navy while it was on its way to the Gaza Strip.
Another official said that Abbas had no choice but to agree to the US request to extend the peace talks beyond the April deadline.
“The Americans are trying to avoid a situation where the parties would declare the failure to the peace talks,” the official told The Jerusalem Post. “The peace talks have thus far failed to achieve anything positive, mainly due to Israeli intransigence.”
Hassan Khraisheh, Deputy Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said that Abbas was facing American and Israeli pressure to soften his position, especially regarding recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
Accusing the US Administration of practicing “political and financial blackmail” against the Palestinians, Khraisheh said that Abbas was adamant in his refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He said that Abbas was also determined to seek unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state by international organizations when and if the negotiations fail.
Khraisheh did not rule out the possibility that the US and Israel would seek a replacement for Abbas if he continued to insist on his position. “I believe that President Abbas will meet the same fate as that of Yasser Arafat,” he said. “They will get rid of him the same way they got rid of Arafat.”
Kerry’s meeting with Abbas comes hours after the 25th Arab summit in Kuwait announced its backing for the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction welcomed the Arab summit declaration, saying it sent a message to entire world that the Arab countries stand behind the Palestinian people’s rights.
Fatah spokesman Ahmed Assaf, who accompanied Abbas to the summit, said that the declaration also shows that the Palestinians are not alone in their refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He described the Israeli demand on this issue as “unjustified and unacceptable.”
Prior to the meeting with Abbas, Kerry held talks in Amman with King Abdullah II and briefed him on the latest developments surrounding the peace process.
The Jordanian monarch reiterated his support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. He also stressed the need to “preserve and protect” Jordan’s interests in any peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israel.