'Agreement only after Israeli elections'

Palestinians say Olmert's government too weak to resolve the issues of Jerusalem and final borders.

October 3, 2007 09:44
'Agreement only after Israeli elections'

Abbas Haniyeh 224.88. (photo credit: AP [file])


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A final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians can only be reached after Israel holds elections, Palestinians sources were quoted by Al-Quds as saying on Thursday. According to the report, the sources said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government was too weak and could not resolve the issues of Jerusalem and the borders of a future Palestinian state, even if the Palestinians agree accept the right of return for refugees to the West Bank and Gaza only. The Palestinians sources said they believed the upcoming Annapolis conference would bring the two sides back to a situation similar to before the second intifada. They also said both sides were waiting for US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to arrive in the region to help bridge the gaps which were preventing a formulation of an agreement on principles. The Palestinian sources reported made the remarks following Wednesday's meeting between Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Also after the talks, the Prime Minister's Office said that Abbas understood that the time was not yet ripe for a final status agreement with Israel. The Palestinians, Olmert's office said, know that they have a long road ahead before they are ready for such an agreement. However, the PMO expressed satisfaction with the meeting, at which the two leaders agreed to present a joint declaration of principles, rather than a framework agreement, at a US-sponsored peace parley in November. The compromise drew fire from both ends of the political spectrum. The Likud criticized the meeting, saying in a statement released early Wednesday evening that current government policy could lead to the establishment of a "second Hamastan" in the West Bank that could pose a missile threat to Gush Dan. No wording [of the agreement] can hide the fact that the Olmert government has promised the Palestinians to withdraw to the 1967 borders and divide Jerusalem, the statement said. Peace Now also expressed its dissatisfaction with the watered-down plan, saying that unless the issues at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were addressed at the November meeting, the parley would turn into a "useless media show." Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin also opposed the decision not to rough out a final status deal. Beilin said there was a "rare opportunity to renew talks on a final status agreement and finish them in a few months." "Any other alternative will strengthen the extremist elements in the region and will damage Israel's national and security interests," Beilin said. Wednesday's meeting, which took place in the prime minister's succa, went ahead despite reports from Arab sources that Abbas has agreed to renew talks with Hamas. The two spoke privately, discussing a list of key subjects they would delegate to separate Israeli and Palestinian teams of advisors. The teams are expected to iron out details pertaining to those key subjects in preparation for the Middle East peace parley scheduled for mid-Novemeber and for a preceding visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, scheduled to predate the parley by a month. A senior official said just as Olmert was beginning his meeting with Abbas that if the reports about Abbas's planned meeting with Hamas officials in Cairo were true, there was "no point" in continuing negotiations. The Prime Minister's Office issued a statement saying Israel's stance regarding Hamas was "known and unequivocal." The statement further emphasized that the government rejected any attempts by the Palestinian Authority to negotiate with Hamas and added that all Israeli officials traveling abroad were instructed to ask their foreign counterparts to step up pressure on Abbas against his making any effort to bridge the gap with Hamas. MK Arye Eldad (NU-NRP) said that "Olmert has crossed all red lines of the Israeli consensus" by negotiating with Abbas amid reports that the latter was renewing contact with Hamas. Abbas agreed "in principle" to renew mediation between Fatah and Hamas, Israel Radio reported Wednesday, quoting Arab sources. Abbas reportedly answered a request forwarded by Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who has been in touch with Abbas's loyalists as well as with Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal and other top figures in Hamas. The pan-Arabic Asharq Alawsat reported that Hamas had also responded positively to Suleiman's mediation attempts. According to the Egyptian initiative, the talks between Fatah and Hamas would be confidential. Abbas suggested Azzam al-Ahmed, one of his close associates, as the man to head Fatah's delegation in the talks. Suleiman asked both sides to produce proposals to end the strife, so that he could review them and formulate one joined proposal that would hopefully appeal to both sides. When such a proposal is drafted, the sides plan to hold secret talks in Cairo. Nevertheless, over the past few days Abbas has reiterated to foreign media outlets that under no conditions would Fatah again share power with Hamas. "It was a bad experience, they ruined it," Abbas was quoted as saying. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority government headed by Abbas-nominated independent Salaam Fayad was preparing a plan to battle Hamas's funding sources. Fayad's government estimated that Hamas was feeding off charities, smuggling through tunnels dug under the Philadelphi Corridor in the southern Gaza Strip, and charging commissions from money changers. Until the violent takeover in June, Hamas also transferred money through the Rafah crossing, the PA government assessed. But a Hamas senior told Al Hayat that his organization had "a million ways" to receive outside funding and that Fayad's government would not be able to succeed where Israel and the US have failed [i.e. in stopping funds from reaching Hamas.] In related news, an Islamic Jihad leader said Wednesday that his group would not abide by any agreements reached by Abbas or his allies, and that it would continue carrying out terror attacks within the Green Line. The spokesman said that his group would respect nothing less than a return to the 1948 borders. The Islamic Jihad official also said his group would not respect any understanding or agreement that would be achieved before the upcoming peace parley. Sources in Washington said the parley might be delayed by two-to-four weeks, in order to give the sides time to reach some agreement ahead of the talks, Army Radio reported.

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