Abbas: Last chance to reach agreement

PA president to implore Bush to step up peace efforts; will say that failure will mean Hamas rule.

Bush abbas 224.88 (photo credit:)
Bush abbas 224.88
(photo credit: )
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will urge US President George W. Bush at their meeting in Washington on Thursday to step up his efforts to reach a framework agreement between the Palestinians and Israel before the end of the year, PA officials in Ramallah said Tuesday. Abbas will tell Bush that the Palestinians prefer a framework agreement that would lay the foundations for a permanent peace deal to a nonbinding declaration of principles between the Israel and the PA, according to the officials. "President Abbas will tell Bush that this is the last chance to reach an agreement," the officials told The Jerusalem Post. "If we fail to reach such an agreement before the end of Bush's term in office, the situation in the region will deteriorate." A declaration of principles would be "meaningless" and would not be taken seriously by either the Israelis or the Palestinians, the officials warned. The officials also said Abbas would warn Bush that failure to reach an agreement by the end of 2008 would "boost Hamas and undermine the Palestinian Authority and all moderate forces among the Palestinians." Abbas's message to Bush, they said, was that Hamas would eventually take over the West Bank because of the lack of progress on the political track with Israel. "When the people see that there is no hope, they turn to Hamas," the officials said. "If we don't reach an agreement, the Israelis and Americans will have to deal with Hamas in the future." Abbas will also demand that the US intensify its pressure on Israel to halt construction in West Bank settlements and Jewish neighborhoods in the eastern part of Jerusalem, they added. He will argue that Israel has done almost nothing to improve the living conditions of the Palestinians since the Annapolis peace conference five months ago. Before heading to Washington, Abbas told reporters in Tunis that he would seek the approval of the Palestinians for any peace agreement with Israel through a referendum. He said he did not want the current peace talks with Israel to end in a vague declaration of principles. "I will focus in my talks with President Bush on the negotiations and on ending talks with an agreement this year," he said, adding that he wants a framework agreement that will outline the way the final-status issues will be resolved. Abbas warned against missing the "window of opportunities" for reaching an agreement. "If the year ends without agreement, we will face hard times," he said.