'Nobody denies Jewish history here'

Abbas seeks "end of conflict" with land swaps, okays NATO presence.

June 11, 2010 02:26
4 minute read.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas

mahmoud abbas 311. (photo credit: AP)


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WASHINGTON – Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas laid out new requirements for moving to direct talks with Israel Thursday, dropping earlier calls for a settlement freeze in favor of progress on borders and security.

Specifically, he said he was looking for agreement from the Netanyahu government that the basis for borders would be the 1967 lines with agreed land swaps, an arrangement he said was in place during his direct talks with the previous prime minister, Ehud Olmert.

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“Everyone around the world talks about the ’67 borders, but with some amendments, some swaps here and there,” he told a Brookings Institution forum the day after he met with US President Barack Obama and other top American officials.

Obama on Thursday reiterated America’s call for the parties to move quickly from indirect talks that began last month toward direct negotiations, which Israel has long called for. The Palestinians agreed to indirect talks so long as they dealt with substantive issues such as borders and security, but Israel prefers to address those and all other final status topics in face-to-face negotiations.

Still, during his trip to the US, Abbas sought to emphasize his credentials as a peacemaker. His Brookings appearance, billed as his first public address in Washington, was sandwiched between a similarly rare meeting with Jewish leaders and former government officials Wednesday night and visits with members of Congress later Thursday.

Abbas seeks to burnish image as moderate during trip

Abbas’s outreach seems largely aimed at positioning himself as a moderate who can be trusted by the US and reassuring the American Jewish community and Israelis of his intentions.

To that end, Abbas reaffirmed publicly positions more often heard from Palestinians in private, such as his willingness to have a long-term international presence in Palestinian areas in order “to make the Israeli people feel secure inside their homes.”

He pointed to NATO as one such organization he had discussed with American officials, declaring through a translator, “We have no objections to NATO.”

He rejected out of hand the concept of a one-state solution, but said the popularity of this idea was growing among Palestinians and added to the urgency of resolving the situation so that there would be “no more demands” and an “end of claims.” He also said that the matter of Palestinian refugees would be handled by an “agreed” solution.

Pressed by former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, vice president of Brookings, whether this “agreement” would be made with the Israelis, Abbas elicited laughs from the audience when he responded, “With whom? Tanzania?”

On another sensitive issue – the notion that Jerusalem would be a shared capital for both countries – Abbas indicated that he recognized Israeli claims to west Jerusalem as its capital, but not to east Jerusalem. At Wednesday night’s dinner, he stated, “We say that west Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”

The closed-door event was arranged by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, which provided a transcript of his remarks.

Abbas accepts historical Jewish presence in Middle East

When asked about whether under a final agreement the PA would recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Abbas told the crowd of 30 leaders of major Jewish organizations, former national security advisors and think tank experts that Israel would be free to describe itself however it wanted.

But he also said, “Nobody denies the Jewish history in the Middle East. A third of our holy Koran talks about the Jews in the Middle East, in this area. Nobody from our side at least denies that the Jews were in Palestine.”

At the dinner Abbas was also pressed repeatedly on the issue of incitement among Palestinians.

“I accept your accusations,” Abbas said, referring to charges of incitement on PA-run TV, according to the transcript. “I will say, OK, let us say there is incitement. How can we deal with this? Shall I talk about Israeli incitement?”

He proposed reviving a three-party committee delineated under the Wye River agreement which would monitor incitement on both sides, with the participation of an American official.

Several dinner participants described Abbas’s tone as positive and constructive.

“It was conciliatory and based on mutual respect,” said David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “There was a sense the dialogue should continue.”

Jeremy Ben-Ami of the progressive J Street lobby summed up Abbas’s basic message as one that recalled past Israeli characterizations of the Palestinians as never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity. “He basically said, ‘Now it’s your turn. Don’t mess this up.’”

Ben-Ami added, “Israel will never have a better partner than Mahmoud Abbas.”

Not everyone at the dinner, however, had as rosy an assessment of the encounter.

One participant, whose notes were shared with The Jerusalem Post on condition of anonymity, described it as “a polite but pointed exchange over a series of questions that were asked again and again, because Abbas avoided the questions each time they were asked.”

He pointed particularly to questions about what Abbas was doing to condition his people for peace. Abbas instead spoke of the recent interview he did with Israel’s Channel 10, concluding, “I asked Netanyahu to appear on our TV. He refused.”

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