(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday defended his decision to sign a reconciliation agreement with Hamas, and reiterated his opposition to resuming peace talks with Israel – unless construction in the settlements is halted.
His remarks came following a meeting in Bethlehem with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano..
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Napolitano announced during the meeting that Italy has decided to upgrade the status of the Palestinian representation office in Rome to a full diplomatic mission.
The decision means that the PA representative in Rome would be given the status of ambassador, with full diplomatic immunity.
The move follows similar decisions by Spain, Ireland, France, Portugal
and other countries in recent months to upgrade the status of
Palestinian representation offices to diplomatic missions.
The Italian president emphasized his country’s support for the PA’s efforts to achieve peace.
He said that Italy was committed to achieving peace between Israel and
the Palestinians so that the Palestinians would have an independent
state alongside Israel.
He also expressed hope that Israel and the PA would return to the
negotiating table before September – the date the PA leadership has set
as a deadline for seeking UN recognition of a Palestinian state.
Abbas told reporters that he won’t return to the negotiating table with
Israel unless settlement construction was stopped. He called on the US
Administration to push the peace process forward on the basis of the
terms of the road map for peace, and the Arab peace initiative of 2002.
Abbas said that although there wasn’t much time left until September,
“there was still enough time to resume the peace talks on the basis of a
two-state solution. We hope that President Barack Obama would mention
this in his upcoming speech.”
Abbas said that the unity government with Hamas would adhere to the
policies of the PLO – something that has been dismissed by Hamas
officials as unacceptable.
Hamas’s views won’t have any impact on the peace process, Abbas stated. “The unity is a great achievement.”
Abbas added that Hamas was a political force on the ground and part of the Palestinian people.
“No one could deny that,” he said. “The reconciliation accord is not in contradiction with peace.”