Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday made several significant statements in favor of a dialogue with Israel and a hastening of the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in an official interview with Japanese newspaper Ashai Shimbun. "I am ready to meet the prime minister of Israel any time in Washington under the patronage of President Trump," Abbas declared. Looking ahead to his meeting with Trump in Washington, which is slated to take place on May 3, the PA president said that the purpose of the summit with the US president was "to continue our discussion on how to conclude a peace deal with the help of the US." In a remark that could very well be interpreted as a jab at the former US administration and former US president Barack Obama, Abbas went on to say that "We are glad that now the US administration listens about us from us, and not from third parties... President Trump knows that we are committed to a Middle East that lives in peace, justice and dignity, based on [a] two-state solution, international legitimacy and Arab peace initiative." However, Abbas also touched on topics that have previously impeded diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the conflict and reconcile between the Jewish state and the Palestinians. When asked how he would react if Trump makes good on his campaign pledge to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and how such a move would impact the Palestinian territories and the region, Abbas said: "We have been clear that we don't want this to happen. We told the US administration that and they know our position. They also know the regional position on that matter.""If your question is if we have a plan, the answer is yes," Abbas continued firmly. "But we hope that we don't get to implement it. And we believe that the US administration is not going to take such an illegal, dangerous and destructive measure like that," he added. Abbas then went on to address another subject that has been one of the main sources of the ongoing dispute between Israelis and Palestinians. When asked about his stance regarding the current Israeli settlement policy, the Palestinian Authority president was adamant in his reply. "It's not about the 'current' settlement policy. It is about a whole colonial-settlement regime aimed at imposing an apartheid regime in all of Palestine."Responding to a question regarding the possibility that Trump may act to help stall the expansion of Israel's settlement enterprise, he said: "It is not about 'restraining' settlement construction. They are a war crime under international law... No, this has to stop."
Reiterating his position on the matter, Abbas continued, suggesting that only a settlement freeze would benefit the peace process. "To 'restrain' settlements will not stop Israel from uprooting our trees, taking over our land and water, or providing impunity for settlers and Israeli forces to attack our defenseless people." Seeing as Abbas's meeting with Trump is a mere few weeks away, it seems that the declarations he made on Wednesday can easily be viewed as part of the overall agenda the PA president will attempt to promote when the two leaders convene. Trump extended the invitation to Abbas when the two had their first phone conversation in March. At the time, senior PA official Ahmed Majdalani told The Jerusalem Post that he was "optimistic" about the upcoming meeting and that Palestinian officials shared a hope "to agree on the fundamentals to revive the peace process." The Palestinian leadership's reluctance to forge ahead with peace talks without seeing Israel freeze its settlement construction entirely was expressed as explicitly as ever in Abbas's interview. Similar resistance was sounded by Abbas's adviser for international affairs, Nabil Sha'ath. "The leadership's position is clear: There will be no return to the negotiations' table until there is a complete settlement freeze in the Palestinian territories which were occupied in 1967," Sh'ath said on April 5. Speaking to the Post, Sh'ath also said that while Trump's reaction was unpredictable, the Palestinian administration was not willing to come to an agreement if its conditions will not be met. "I do not know what he [Trump] will do, but we will not concede our requirements for renewing negotiations," he said. "We will not sit and talk for the sake of sitting and talking. We want negotiations that have a real chance of achieving a deal."Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.
Hopes for peace plan at Arab League Summit , with Abbas in attendance , on March 29, 2017 (REUTERS)