Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced on Tuesday that the Palestinians won't resume peace talks with Israel unless the international community recognized the 1967 borders as the boundaries of a Palestinian state and unless Israel halted all construction work in the settlements, including eastern Jerusalem.
He made the announcement during a speech he delivered at two-day meeting of the PLO Central Council in Ramallah, which is being to approve the extension of Abbas's term in office until new elections are held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Abbas's term in office expired earlier this year. However, Abbas decided to stay in power because Fatah and Hamas failed to reach agreement over holding new presidential and parliamentary elections.
Foreign Minister Avigdor rejected the PA president's, saying that Jerusalem would not accept any preconditions for peace talks.
"Israel will not accept any preconditions for resuming peace negotiations," the foreign minister said, adding that the government has agreed to hold direct contact without preconditions. "Anyone who sets such conditions is just trying to escape reality and avoid negotiations and a peaceful solution."
Abbas has reiterated his intention not to run for a second term and stressed the need to hold presidential, legislative and municipal elections as soon as possible.
But this does not mean that Abbas will step down any time in the near future because the prospects of holding elections under the current circumstances remain as remote as ever.
The PLO council, which consists of scores of members of the Palestine National Council, the PLO's parliament-in-exile, is expected to endorse a resolution calling on Abbas to remain in power until Hamas and Fatah reach agreement over holding new elections.
Abbas's latest demand - that the world recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders as a precondition for resuming peace talks with Israel -, was seen by some Palestinians here as a sign of his new tough approach toward the Middle East conflict.
Until now, Abbas had conditioned his return to the negotiating table on a complete freeze of settlement construction.
"We want the world to recognize the 1967 borders as the point of reference for the peace negotiations," Abbas said. "And when they do so, they must also recognize East Jerusalem as territory that was occupied in 1967."
Abbas said that the Palestinians and Arabs would seek a resolution from the United Nations Security Council that determines the borders of the Palestinian state within the territories occupied in 1967.
"Once there's an international recognition of the 1967 borders and settlement construction is stopped, we will go to the negotiations," he added.
Abbas dismissed the Israeli government's decision to freeze construction in West Bank settlements, saying it did not include some 3,000 housing units and public building in the West Bank and did not apply to eastern Jerusalem.
"As far as we are concerned, this is not a settlement freeze," he said. "[Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu is responsible for the stalemate in the peace process."
Abbas told the conference that since the signing of the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians and Israelis have altogether negotiated for a few months only. "After Oslo we negotiated for a brief period of one or two years about the implementation of the accord before [former Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin was assassinated," he said. "When Netanyahu was in power from 1996-1999, there were no negotiations about final-status issues at all."
Abbas said that in the final days of former prime minister Ehud Barak's term in office, the Palestinians and Israelis held 16 days of negotiations at the Camp David resort in the US. He said that the two sides did not hold any negotiations since 2000 and until the Annapolis peace conference in November 2007. After the conference, the Palestinians and Israelis held another seven months of negotiations, but to no avail, he added.
The PA president lashed out at Hamas and held it responsible for the ongoing divisions among Palestinians. He also mocked at Hamas for continuing to talk about fighting Israel while its members were preventing other groups from firing rockets at Israel.
Abbas also pointed out that the Palestinians have paid a very heavy price for the abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, saying, "More than 2,500 martyrs, 5,000 houses demolished and tens of thousands of people who were left homeless." He said that despite the power struggle, his Fatah faction was still prepared to reach a unity agreement with Hamas.
Addressing the gathering, Salim Za'noun, chairman of the Palestine National Council, criticized the US Administration because of its "dangerous retraction" regarding the issue of settlements. He accused Washington of exerting pressure on the Palestinian leadership instead of "obliging Israel to comply with UN resolutions."
He also held the "radical right-wing" government in Israel responsible for the current stalemate in the peace talks due to its "aggressive occupation."
"Our people are marching in the path of the martyrs despite the difficult situation," he declared. "Our people are prepared to continue in the footsteps of Yasser Arafat and make additional sacrifices."