abbas Olmert jericho 224.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Palestinian Authority is demanding "far-reaching" concessions from Israel and the US as a precondition for attending the US-sponsored Middle East peace conference, PA officials in Ramallah said Tuesday.
The officials told The Jerusalem Post that PA President Mahmoud Abbas would relay these demands to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during their meeting in Ramallah on Thursday.
This is the first time the PA has set conditions for attending the conference. The latest decision reflects the PA's increasing reluctance to participate under the current circumstances.
Among the concessions that Abbas has demanded are the release of hundreds of security prisoners from Israeli jails, the removal of dozens of IDF checkpoints in the West Bank, and a halt to the construction of the security barrier and of new houses in West Bank settlements.
According to the officials in Ramallah, Abbas will also demand millions of dollars to boost his Fatah-controlled PA security forces and to help build proper government institutions.
Earlier this week, the Post revealed that the PA was considering requesting the postponement of the peace conference.
On the eve of Rice's talks with Abbas, the officials reiterated this position, saying they saw no point in holding an international conference as long as the Palestinians and Israelis had not reached a "declaration of principles" on fundamental issues such as the status of Jerusalem, the borders of the proposed Palestinian state and the "right of return" for the refugees.
"We will inform Rice that the conference requires serious preparations - otherwise, it will fail and everything will explode in our faces," one official told the Post. "We only hope that Rice won't exert pressure on us to participate in the conference while we are still unprepared."
The official said Abbas would express his deep concern over remarks made by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert earlier this week regarding the US-sponsored conference. Olmert was quoted as saying that the most he was hoping to achieve in Washington was a "joint statement," and not a declaration of principles. His remarks drew sharp criticism from Abbas's senior aides, who accused the prime minister of seeking to thwart the conference.
"Olmert is either unwilling or unable to reach an agreement over the core issues with the Palestinians due to his internal problems," said another PA official. "Olmert is politically very weak, and it's time to admit that he can't deliver. I don't even know why he has agreed to go to the conference."
Nimer Hammad, political adviser to Abbas, said it would be better for all if the US postponed the conference, which is scheduled for November. He said there was no reason for Abbas or any other Arab to attend as long as Israel was not prepared to reach a final-status agreement.â€¢