Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday reiterated that the Palestinians won’t return to the negotiating table unless Israel stopped all construction in the settlements.
Abbas also said that the Palestinians would ask the US and United Nations Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders if the peace process failed.
Abbas: Israel been taking unilateral measures for years
Rivlin: 'Settlements are not an obstacle to peace'
Abbas was speaking to reporters after meeting in Ramallah with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Geith and General Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman.
The two Egyptian emissaries came to Ramallah to discuss with Abbas ways of resuming the stalled peace talks with Israel and ending the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas.
“There must be a complete cessation of settlement construction if they want us to return to the negotiations,” Abbas declared after the meeting. “It’s known that Israel has issued many orders for construction in the settlements. It’s building in Jerusalem and in the Palestinian territories and this is unacceptable.”
Abbas accused Jewish settlers of “destroying mosques and schools and cutting trees under looking eyes of the Israeli army.”
He expressed “astonishment” over Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s warning to the Palestinians against taking unilateral measures. “His talk about unilateral measures seems strange to me,” Abbas said. “If he means that we may go to the Security Council, this is something that may occur in several months only. But Israel has been making unilateral decisions for decades, especially with regards to settlement construction.”
Abbas said he also rejected Netanyahu’s claim that the Palestinians haven’t fulfilled their obligations under the terms of the Road Map for peace in the Middle East. “I challenge him to show us one commitment that we didn’t meet,” he added. “We also challenge him to tell us if Israel has fulfilled one obligation.”
Abbas reiterated the Palestinians’ commitment to the peace process. “We are still determined that peace can only be achieved through negotiations,” he said.
Abbas said that the Palestinians’ first option was to resume the direct talks with Israel if the construction in the settlements stopped. Other options which would be considered at a later stage include seeking US and UN recognition for an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, he added.
However, Abbas said that the Palestinians’ preferred option at this stage was to return to the negotiating table once the freeze on settlement construction was extended.
Abbas also thanked Egypt for its efforts to achieve reconciliation between his Fatah faction and Hamas. However, he said he did not know at this phase whether there was room for optimism.
Hamas and Fatah negotiators are scheduled to meet next week in yet another bid to solve their dispute.
The Egyptian foreign minister said after the talks that Cairo was in touch with Israel and the US to reach agreement on extending the moratorium on settlement construction. He said that Egypt fully supported the PA position calling for a total cessation of settlement construction so as to pave the way for the resumption of the peace talks.
Although Geith and Suleiman did not come to Jerusalem for meetings on Thursday, on Monday Uzi Arad, the head of the National Security Council, went to Egypt and met with Suleiman regarding ideas on how to re-start the talks.
Arad is also believed to have discussed the wider regional situation, including recent developments in Gaza and Lebanon. Egypt, as well as Saudi Arabia, is extremely concerned – according to diplomatic officials – about the inroads Iran is making in both locations.
In a related matter, Israeli sources responded to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's comments published Thursday in the Italian daily Corriere Della Sera that plans are under way to declare an independent Palestinian state next year, by saying that a Palestinian state is possible, but will only come into being through negotiations.
"If they chose the unilateral option, we have unilateral options as well," one official said, without elaborating. He said that Yasser Arafat declared a state back in 1988, which was indeed recognized by nearly 100 countries, but did not substantively change anything for the Palestinians.
"The only way is through negotiations," he said.
PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, meanwhile, stated that he had no ambitions to succeed Abbas. He said he was also opposed to the idea of dismantling the PA if the peace talks with Israel fail.
“The Palestinian Authority is the most important step in the project of building an independent Palestinian state,” Fayyad told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper.
Fayyad denied allegations that he had been depriving Fatah of financial aid. “I haven’t seen anything from Fatah but support and cooperation,” he stressed. “I have a detailed and in-depth relationship with Fatah, which is the movement of the Palestinian people and not just a faction belonging to its official members.”
Fayyad said he also had good and warm relations with Abbas, “the president of all of us and the commander-in-chief of our soldiers.”
Fayyad said that his ambition was to “celebrate in Jerusalem with the Palestinian people the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. I have no other ambitions beyond that.”
Fayyad defended his government as an elected body and dismissed charges of betraying the Palestinians. “My government is the government of the Palestinian people and I was elected and was and still am a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council,” he said.
Fayyad said that his government was also investing in various projects in the Gaza Strip, which has been under the control of Hamas since 2007. He revealed that in the last three years his government, in cooperation with international organizations, spent approximately 260 million in the Gaza Strip.
The PA prime minister also disclosed that he has been in touch with Hamas in a bid to end the power struggle between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. “I certainly have personal relations with many of them,” he said. “They are living amongst us and I worked with them in the national unity government when I was finance minister. I also worked with them as member of the Palestinian parliament."