PM, Abbas verbally joust about Israel’s security needs

PA president says "Israelis don't want to define borders" on eve of Amman talks.

PA president Abbas, Jordan King Abdullah II_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
PA president Abbas, Jordan King Abdullah II_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sparred long distance Wednesday over Israel’s security needs, even as their envoys were scheduled to meet in the evening to try and lay the groundwork for substantive negotiations.
Abbas, speaking with reporters after meeting in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in the morning, said he was prepared to listen to Israeli demands regarding security issues “on condition that no Israeli is allowed to stay on Palestinian territory.”
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A few hours later, during a speech to the Knesset, Netanyahu said any possible agreement will have to take into account the dramatic events in the region, the speed with which Middle East reality is changing and the growing threats to Israel.
“Israel needs a very strong layer of security arrangements on the ground in any future agreement,” he said. The prime minister has said in the past on numerous occasions that Israel would have to retain a security presence in the Jordan Valley to provide a buffer between the West Bank and Jordan.
Ma’ariv reported Wednesday that at the talks between Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho and his Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erekat Saturday night in Amman, Erekat refused to listen to Brig-Gen. Assaf Orion, head of the strategic unit of the IDF’s Planning Branch, give a presentation on Israel’s security demands.
The Palestinians first want to talk about border issues, and are claiming Israel is dragging its feet presenting its proposals on that issue.
Abbas said in Amman that Israel’s refusal to recognize the borders of a future Palestinian state was one of the obstacles to the resumption of peace negotiations between the two sides, but that Israeli settlement construction and “crimes” were the biggest obstacle.
Abdullah urged Abbas to continue the current Israeli-Palestinian talks after Thursday, a PA official in Ramallah said.
That is the day when – according to the Palestinian interpretation – a three-month deadline set by the Quartet for both sides to present comprehensive proposals on security and border issues expires. Israel believes that the deadline does not expire until early April.
Abbas said that he would agree to return to the negotiating table once Israel recognized the borders of the Palestinian state.
The PA has conditioned the resumption of the diplomatic process on Israeli acceptance of the pre-1967 lines as the basis for a two-state solution, and a full cessation of construction in settlements and east Jerusalem neighborhoods.
“If we agree on the borders, we would be able to return to the negotiations,” Abbas said. “But the Israelis don’t want to define the borders.”
Hailing Jordan’s role in hosting the current round of Israeli-Palestinian talks, Abbas said that he would assess the PA’s next steps after Wednesday evening’s scheduled talks.
Meanwhile, in the Knesset, Netanyahu called on the Palestinians to continue the talks. Also praising Abdullah for his sponsorship of the discussions, Netanyahu said he “hopes the Palestinians understand that their interests are in continuing the discussions, because only through talks and negotiations will it be possible to make progress on ending the conflict.”
Netanyahu met visiting EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton Wednesday evening and discussed both the diplomatic process with the Palestinians and the EU decision to ratchet up sanctions against Iran. She is scheduled to meet Abbas on Thursday, and is widely expected to urge him not to quit the Amman talks.