Palestinians skeptical on Clinton-Abbas meet

Officials have low hopes that PA president’s meeting with US secretary of state and the French president will revive talks.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas 370 (R) (photo credit: Luis Galdamez / Reuters)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas 370 (R)
(photo credit: Luis Galdamez / Reuters)
Palestinian officials don’t believe that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Friday-scheduled meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and French President Francois Hollande will bring them back to the negotiation table.
The meeting, which Clinton requested, will discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the release of Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails. The meeting agenda also includes a Palestinian plan to seek a UN resolution that condemns settlements in the “occupied” territories.
Abbas left the Palestinian territories Wednesday evening for Jordan, in a visit that will also take him to France.
Xavier Abu Eid, an adviser at the Palestine Liberation Organization Negotiations Support Unit, told The Jerusalem Post that the release of 132 Palestinians whom Israel had detained before it signed the Oslo Accords with the PLO in 1993, as well as a total settlement freeze, were part of previous agreements Israel and the PLO had signed.
“If you need to talk about a credible peace process, it’s only fair that the two parties abide by previous agreements in order to sit together and negotiate again,” he said.
Earlier this year, the two parties met in the Jordanian capital for “exploratory talks” that failed to revive the peace process.
Abu Eid said the PA was flexible in terms of meeting and opening a dialogue with Israeli officials, but negotiations with Israel would require a total settlement freeze.
Last month a presidential spokesperson declared that Abbas would agree to meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Benjamin Netanyahu if he released the ill detainees, plus those who had been detained before Oslo, and allowed police weapons to enter the West Bank.
The peace process has been halted since October 2010, as Israel refused to extend a 10-month partial moratorium on settlement building.
Palestinians have declared that they want a total settlement freeze before going back to negotiations, but Israel refuses any preconditions to continuing the peace talks.
Abu Eid said the previous settlement suspension in 2010 wasn’t a real one, as it excluded already-approved buildings, building in east Jerusalem, and public buildings in the “occupied” territories.
“International organizations admitted that there were 900 violations of the moratorium,” he said., adding, “We think that Israel uses the peace process as a cover for building more settlements.
In 1990, the settlers [numbered] 100,000, and now they are more than 500,000.”
Clinton is expected to pressure Abbas on a decision the PLO executive committee made last week to pursue a UN resolution condemning settlements.
An Abbas diplomatic adviser told the Post earlier this week that the only gesture that would prevent Palestinians from heading to the UN General Assembly was a settlement freeze.
A senior Fatah official downplayed the results that might come out from this meeting, but said that Clinton would try to convince Abbas with Israeli confidence-building measures.
“She doesn’t have much to offer. Israel is the one that decides if the negotiations will continue, and they know how,” the official said, referring to a settlement freeze.
The official said the Palestinian leadership wanted to go back to the negotiation table, but under good terms.
“After two years of halting negotiations, the PA didn’t gain anything,” he said.
Nevertheless, the latest popular pressure on the PA in Ramallah makes it harder for the Palestinian leader to accept going back to the negotiation table empty-handed.
“He [Abbas] has to have a good reason to give his people [for] why he returned to talks after having [insisted] on a settlement freeze all that time – it should be a settlement freeze or something as good as that,” the official added.
On Tuesday evening, hundreds marched from downtown Ramallah to Abbas’s headquarters in the Mukata compound, protesting negotiations and condemning police violence at previous rallies.
Two previous rallies weren’t allowed to reach the Mukata in the beginning of the week, as PA security forces violently kept back the crowd.
Abbas is also planning to meet with High Commissioner for Foreign and Security Policy in the European Union Catherine Ashton, and the foreign ministers of Britain and Norway. He is expected to discuss the latest financial crisis in his tour.
On Tuesday, Finance Minister Nabil Qassis announced that the PA was incapable of paying salaries to public employees this month due to a financial crisis described as the biggest in the PA’s history.