Top PA official to JPost: Abbas is flexible on land swaps

While both the Israeli and Palestinian top leaderships have now visited the White House, there have been no commitments made for renewed peace talks.

May 8, 2017 19:16
3 minute read.
Abbas United Nations Human Rights Council

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas arrives to delivers a speech during the United Nations Human Rights Council on February 27, 2017 in Geneva. (photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP)


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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is still willing to negotiate “minimal” land swaps along the 1967 borders, Nabil Sha’ath, the Palestinian leader’s foreign policy adviser, said on Monday.

“[Abbas] has not changed that,” Sha’ath told The Jerusalem Post in an interview at the Grand Park Hotel in Ramallah, alluding to Abbas’s position on land swaps. “He is a flexible person.”

Land swaps refer to exchanges of territory between Israel and the Palestinians, in which the two sides would agree to modifications to the 1967 border in a final agreement.

Practically, land swaps would allow Israel to maintain some settlements and the Palestinians to annex parts of Israel.

Sha’ath, who is a former top Palestinian negotiator, said that land swaps have been a core part of the negotiations process since United Nation Security Council Resolution 242, which calls for “guaranteeing the territorial inviolability and political independence of every state in the area.”

However, Sha’ath said that Israel is not thinking of the same type of land swap as Abbas, who backs “minimal” swaps, which are equal in terms of quality of land.

“The Israeli government is not thinking of minimal corrections,” Sha’ath remarked.

“It is thinking that 62% of the West Bank, Area C, would be exchanged for 1% in the desert around Gaza. We are not going to do that.”

Abbas has previously negotiated land swaps with Israel and even offered a 1.9% exchange at the Annapolis Peace Conference in 2007.

Nonetheless, Abbas has recently iterated that he will not accept anything other than a Palestinian state along 1967 lines with east Jerusalem as its capital.

Abbas said last Tuesday that the Palestinian leadership “will not accept any solution” that does not include a state along 1967 lines and east Jerusalem as its capital.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has said he supports a two-state solution, but also leads a government coalition, which includes members who oppose it.

Sha’ath, who was speaking a few days after Abbas and Trump’s first meeting in Washington, DC, also said that the meeting between the two leaders was “very positive.”

Sha’ath said the Palestinian leadership did not have high expectations for the meeting, but was pleasantly surprised upon its arrival in the American capital.

“The Palestinian flag inside the White House; the honoring of President Abu Mazen and his commitment to peace; Trump accepting our invitation to come to Palestine when he comes to the Middle East,” Sha’ath mentioned, trying to explain the optimism of the Palestinian leadership following its meeting with Trump. “Much of this is symbolic, but symbolism and things like this are important because it creates a different kind of atmosphere.”

Sha’ath added that the Palestinian delegation was able to make its case to the Trump administration, which, he said, listened attentively.

“[The Americans] listened to our case and were positive and appreciative of our position and commitment to peace,” Sha’ath said, without revealing the specific details of the meeting.

According to Sha’ath, the meeting was so successful that the Palestinian leadership thinks that Trump is more adamant than former president Barack Obama was to reach a deal.

“We were happy when Mr. Obama came to Cairo... but obviously the question is not only about your general demeanor but, rather, your ability to carry it through. Mr. Obama really had so many other priorities, such as healthcare,” Sha’ath said. “Trump gives the impression that he is determined...He is very much interested in a deal. If you’re interested in making a deal, you need resolve and flexibility, and we are sure he has these two.”

At the start of Obama’s first term in 2009, he delivered a speech in Cairo, in which he called for the establishment of a Palestinian state and a halt to settlement building.

While both the Israeli and Palestinian top leaderships have now visited the White House, they still have not committed to renew talks.

Sha’ath declined to comment if the Palestinian side is still demanding a settlement freeze to resume talks.

“We will have to discuss that issue in future meetings with the Trump administration,” he said.

Nonetheless, he thinks that Israel and the Palestinians should do everything possible to reach a peace deal while Abbas is in office.

“Abu Mazen is the best opportunity and is really committed to peace,” Sha’ath said. “Both Israelis and Palestinians need to take advantage of this opportunity.”

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