Rice says talks 'gaining momentum'

Abbas says even 92% of W. Bank, Gaza unacceptable; insists on pre-1967 borders.

September 29, 2007 19:58
Rice says talks 'gaining momentum'

Abbas UN 224.88. (photo credit: AP)


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The dialogue between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has gained momentum, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in an interview to CBS. Rice said that during the last round of trilateral talks, in February, Olmert and Abbas had "barely [agreed] to speak to each other, let alone speak about anything of importance." The secretary of state also said that support in the Arab world for Abbas was critical and pointed out that Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair's mission had also "helped people focus on the institutions of statehood, the building of capacity to govern." Turning to the situation in the Gaza Strip, Rice said that Gaza was not separate from the Palestinian Authority. There aren't two Palestinian [Authorities], Rice said. Rather, she asserted, there was the West Bank and Gaza, and there was going to be a Palestinian state under the leadership of Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad. At some point, Rice said, Hamas will have to make a choice: "is it prepared to be outside that consensus or not; is it prepared to be outside the Arab consensus or not?" Meanwhile, Abbas told the Washington Post, in an interview published Sunday, that an offer similar to the 92 percent of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for a Palestinian state extended at Camp David in 2000 would not be enough. He insisted on the pre-1967 borders, speaking ahead of Tuesday's scheduled meeting with Olmert in his Jerusalem succa to discuss a memorandum of understanding on principles for a peace deal. We will be flexible," said Abbas. "But before 1947, we had 95% of Palestine. In 1937, the partition plan gave the Israelis only part of Palestine. And they were very happy at that time. [David] Ben-Gurion was very happy with it. It didn't work. After that [came] the 1947 partition plan - we rejected this, so we lost... Now, we accept [the pre-'67 borders]." He added that like Arafat, he too would have rejected the offer Bill Clinton made at Camp David in 2000. "Ninety-two [percent] is unacceptable to us," Abbas said. The two leaders are meeting in advance of November's Middle East conference that is likely to take place in Annapolis, Maryland. Representatives of Israel, the US and the Palestinians are expected to be joined there by officials from moderate Arab states. Speaking with the Washington Post, Abbas said Saudi Arabia would be at the conference. "Saudi Arabia had reservations in the beginning because the whole situation was very vague. Now, everything is clear. Yesterday, I met with [Saudi Foreign Minister] Prince Saud al-Faisal, and he was satisfied. So I believe they will attend the conference," Abbas said. A working group of Israelis and Palestinians is also expected to begin hammering out a joint understanding between the two sides to be issued at the conference. On Friday, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met with Abbas in New York to discuss the November talks. PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki, Abbas adviser Yasser Abed Rabo and former PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala) were also present. Livni told Abbas, "We need to be courageous in our decision making and at the same time wise enough to advance the process in an intelligent and realistic manner so that it will not fail." Neither she nor Olmert support a return to the pre-1967 borders. Livni also held talks with former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, former president Bill Clinton and New York Sen. Hilary Clinton. Addressing the UN General Assembly earlier Friday, Abbas vowed to pursue peace with Israel. Abbas pledged that the "olive branch of peace that never withers or dies, will not fall from my hands," an apparent reference to Yasser Arafat's 1974 address to the same forum. Then, Arafat said he carried both an olive branch and "the freedom fighter's gun," and implored the world not to let that branch fall from his hands. "Today, there is not the slightest obstacle to promoting the holding of [the US-sponsored] peace meeting, in particular because our brother Arab countries have demonstrated through the Arab Peace Initiative their true readiness to bring about a just, lasting and comprehensive peace," Abbas said. "From this podium of the United Nations, I say to the Palestinian people in Palestine and abroad, I can tell them that there is a historic horizon emerging so that our people can restore their legitimate rights and achieve [the] peace and prosperity to which we aspire," he said. Abbas reiterated his government's position that the key to solving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians was directly addressing the "final status" issues, including Palestinian statehood, the status of Jerusalem and the right of return for refugees. Also Friday, Abbas told AFP he thought a final agreement could be hammered out within six months of the November talks. In his Washington Post interview, Abbas gave a nod in the direction of Vice Premier Haim Ramon's idea of giving the Palestinians parts of east Jerusalem. "In principle, this is the right direction. The Palestinians should have their own part and the Israelis should have their own part... I say and have always said that east Jerusalem is an occupied territory. We have to restore it." Asked if he would demand to return to his birthplace, Safed, Abbas said: "This is my right, but how I will use this right is up to me and to the refugees and to the agreement which will take place between us." "We want to find a permanent solution," added Abbas. "The Israelis want security, and we are in need of independence. We want to bridge the gap during the negotiations." "We should have a safe passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank because Gaza is a part of Palestine... all the Arabs support this vision," he continued. Abbas said he was not interested in returning to a national unity government with Hamas. Abbas said Olmert was a sincere and serious leader who wanted to make peace. "I know his internal problems. But he is determined to do something," he added. In his talks with Olmert, Abbas said, "We tackled all the sensitive issues like borders, refugees, settlements, Jerusalem and security... We have already established the teams that are drafting an agreement about these sensitive issues. "After the conference, we will start negotiating the details of these issues in order to have a peace treaty," said Abbas. Nevertheless, Arab nations have been reluctant to commit to attending, fearing that a failure to address the final status issues will result in a gathering high on show, but low on substance. An agenda has yet to be set and the invitations have not been sent. Syrian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Bushra Kanafani said Damascus wanted answers to a number of questions, including details on the agenda of the meeting, and whether the Syria-Israel dispute over the Golan Heights would be discussed. Abbas said he would take whatever came out of the conference to the Palestinian people in a referendum. Arab officials offered a measure of guarded support Friday in the General Assembly, with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit saying the proposed conference, if well prepared, could provide "an important opportunity to achieve long-awaited progress." His Jordanian counterpart, Abdul-Ilah al-Khatib, said it "may be the last chance to achieve progress" and, as a result, the US and others must ensure it tackles the final status issues. Earlier, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told reporters his discussions over the past few days with Rice and others were "reassuring" and that there was a strong desire to have all parties participate in the meeting. "We, on the Arab side, have shown through our initiative that we are ready for peace with Israel," he said. "We are ready to turn the page." But Moussa also stressed that the Arabs were not prepared to negotiate continuously if the commitment to the process was not mutual. At the very least, he said, Israel should halt the expansion of settlements. "It is inconceivable for us to sit and talk about the new state of Palestine... while the map that would be before us, at that moment, would change if we meet in the afternoon because of building settlements," Moussa told reporters on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. "This has to stop." "If they [the Israelis] are not ready, then we will not run after them. But they should not blame anyone if there is a sense of hopelessness" and actions that stem from that despair, he said. AP contributed to this report.•

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