Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is again "moving the goal lines" by saying Tuesday he will not negotiate with Israel until the world recognizes the 1967 lines as the borders of a future Palestinian state, Israeli diplomatic officials said.
The senior officials also said unequivocally that there would be no further unilateral concessions to the PA prior to negotiations, such as the 10-month housing start moratorium in the settlements.
"If Abbas thinks he will get more from Israel by holding out on the negotiations, he is wrong," one official said. "There will be no more unilateral confidence-building measures to get to the negotiations."
The official, however, did not rule out such confidence-building measures once negotiations commenced.
Abbas announced earlier Tuesday that the Palestinians would not resume peace talks unless the international community recognized the 1967 borders as the boundaries of a future Palestinian state, an addition to his prior precondition - which he reiterated on Tuesday - that Israel must also halt all construction work in the settlements, including eastern Jerusalem.
Abbas made the announcement during a speech he delivered at a meeting of the PLO Central Council in Ramallah.
"We want the world to recognize the 1967 borders as the point of reference for the peace negotiations," Abbas said. "And when they do so, they must also recognize east Jerusalem as territory that was occupied in 1967."
Abbas said that the Palestinians and Arabs would seek a resolution from the United Nations Security Council that determines the borders of the Palestinian state within the territories occupied in 1967.
"Once there's an international recognition of the 1967 borders and settlement construction is stopped, we will go to the negotiations," he added.
Abbas dismissed the Israeli government's moratorium on new construction in the settlements, saying it did not include some 3,000 housing units and public building in the West Bank, and did not apply to eastern Jerusalem.
"As far as we are concerned, this is not a settlement freeze," he said. "[Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu is responsible for the stalemate in the peace process."
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman promptly rejected the new demand.
"Israel will not accept any preconditions for resuming peace negotiations," the foreign minister said, adding that the government has agreed to hold direct contact without preconditions. "Anyone who sets such conditions is just trying to escape reality and avoid negotiations and a peaceful solution," he added.
Senior diplomatic officials said that the new Palestinian condition represented a "receding horizon," part of what the officials said was a deliberate strategy to avoid negotiations.
"Whatever we do is not enough," one official said,
saying that every time the government met one condition - such as recognizing a two-state solution and calling for a moratorium on settlement construction - the Palestinians raised another.
"The only way for this to end," the official said, "is for the international community to say to them categorically that they must negotiate. Responsible members of the international community have to say that the only sustainable solution is a negotiated one in which both sides have to compromise. It is a mirage for the Palestinians to think that they can wait for an imposed settlement."
The two-day PLO Central Council meeting is being held to approve the extension of Abbas's term in office until new elections are held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Abbas's term in office expired earlier this year, but the PA president decided to stay in power because Fatah and Hamas failed to reach an agreement over holding new presidential and parliamentary elections.
In his speech, Abbas reiterated his intention not to run for a second term and stressed the need to hold presidential, legislative and municipal elections as soon as possible.
But this does not mean that Abbas will step down any time in the near future because the prospects of holding elections under the current circumstances remain as remote as ever.
The PLO council, which consists of scores of members of the Palestine National Council, the PLO's parliament-in-exile, is expected to endorse a resolution calling on Abbas to remain in power new elections are held.
Abbas's latest demand was seen by some Palestinians in the West Bank as a sign of his new tough approach toward the Middle East conflict.
Abbas told the conference that since the signing of the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians and Israelis have altogether negotiated for a few months only.
"After Oslo we negotiated for a brief period of one or two years about the implementation of the accord before [former prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin was assassinated," he said. "When Netanyahu was in power from 1996-1999, there were no negotiations about final-status issues at all."
Abbas said that in the final days of former prime minister Ehud Barak's coalition, the Palestinians and Israelis held 16 days of negotiations at Camp David in the US.
He said that the two sides did not hold any negotiations between 2000 and the Annapolis peace conference in November 2007. After the conference, the Palestinians and Israelis held another seven months of negotiations, but to no avail, he added.
The PA president lashed out at Hamas and held it responsible for the ongoing divisions among Palestinians. He mocked Hamas for continuing to talk about fighting Israel while its members were preventing other groups from firing rockets at the western Negev.
Abbas also pointed out that the Palestinians have paid a very heavy price for the abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit - "more than 2,500 martyrs, 5,000 houses demolished and tens of thousands of people who were left homeless." He said that despite the power struggle, his Fatah faction was still prepared to reach a unity agreement with Hamas.
Addressing the gathering, Salim Za'noun, Chairman of the Palestine National Council, criticized the US Administration because of its "dangerous retraction" regarding the issue of settlements. He accused Washington of exerting pressure on the Palestinian leadership instead of "obliging Israel to comply with UN resolutions."
Za'noun held the "radical right-wing" government in Israel responsible for the current stalemate in the peace talks due to its "aggressive occupation."
"Our people are marching in the path of the martyrs despite the difficult situation," he declared. "Our people are prepared to continue in the footsteps of Yasser Arafat and make additional sacrifices."
Meanwhile, Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, jailed by Israel for murder and other terror activities, said Tuesday there was no point in holding Palestinian elections before Hamas and Fatah were reconciled.
In an interview with the Agence France-Presse news agency, conducted by correspondence, Barghouti wrote that Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections should only be held "in the context of a complete national agreement." Barghouti also said that elections would be worthless unless they were held in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
Barghouti's name has been raised as one of the prisoners who might be released in an exchange for Schalit. He is also seen by some as a potential successor to Abbas.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.
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