Arab Spring must not push peace process off agenda

Abbas demands prisoner release for talks at Clinton meeting in Paris; Israel: PA looking to avoid negotiations.

Clinton with Abbas during 2010 Ramallah visit 370 (R) (photo credit: Fadi Arouri / Reuters)
Clinton with Abbas during 2010 Ramallah visit 370 (R)
(photo credit: Fadi Arouri / Reuters)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sought ways to push the peace process forward during a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris on Friday.
Clinton said their “candid and productive meeting” including discussions of how to build on the recent exchange of letters between Abbas and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which came alongside the latter’s expansion of his governing coalition to include the centrist Kadima party, which is eager for negotiations to resume.
Clinton will be traveling to Israel later in the month and said she would be following up on her talks with Abbas when she meets with leaders in Jerusalem.
“The United States remains absolutely committed to the goal of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on two states with two peoples based on peace and security,” Clinton told reporters following their meeting.
She added that the turmoil in surrounding countries didn’t make the search for peace less pressing.
“In a time of upheaval across the region, we cannot lose sight of the critical importance of resolving this issue,” she said.
Israeli officials said Jerusalem was looking forward to talks with Clinton. She will arrive on July 16 for a two-day visit, her first since September 2010. Clinton will be coming from Egypt on the last leg of an eight-country journey. She will arrive just a couple of weeks before presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is expected in Israel.
Abbas, meanwhile, said in a Channel 2 interview over the weekend that while negotiations with Israel were his “first, second and third option,” he would resume attempts to gain recognition for a Palestinian state at the United Nations if talks were not relaunched.
Abbas said that the negotiations hinged on Israel releasing 123 Palestinian prisoners who have been in Israeli jails since before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. He also said Israel’s continued building in the West Bank was detrimental to a two-state solution.
Netanyahu has repeatedly expressed a willingness to immediately restart negotiations with Abbas, without any conditions.
The interview with Abbas was taped before his Friday meeting with Clinton.
Abbas refrained during the interview from giving an exact time-frame for a UN move. His gambit at the UN last year failed when he could not garner enough support in the 15-member Security Council to force a US veto, something he had hopped to do. The Palestinians, who since that time have been accepted as a state in only one UN agency – UNESCO – are threatening this time to take their statehood bid to the General Assembly.
The General Assembly cannot grant membership in the UN – that can only be done upon the recommendation of the Security Council – but it may grant “non-member state” status, which could have significance because it could make it possible for the Palestinians to bring cases against Israel to the International Criminal Court.
Government officials reacted to Abbas’s interview by saying that he was continuing the behavior he has adopted since Netanyahu returned to power three years ago: refusing to negotiate directly with Israel and finding reasons to “justify a position that rejects face-to-face negotiations.”
The officials did not find any glimmer of hope in Abbas’s stating during the interview that the precondition to meeting Netanyahu was a prisoner release, and not a settlement freeze.
“The Palestinians have been pretty fluid in their conditions for negotiations,” one official said. “Now it is the prisoner release, but it has also been in the past a demand that Israel accept the 1967 lines as a baseline for talks, or a settlement freeze, or the government’s acceptance of all previous negotiations where they broke off. We think this is all covering up a fundamental fact – that for their own reasons, they don’t want to negotiate.”
Abbas said in the television interview that there was no chance of a third intifada breaking out even if peace talks were not resumed. He said that the Palestinians were moving forward instead with nonviolent resistance.
Referring to the rise of Islamists in the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Abbas said that if the Palestinian people were to vote Islamists into power in the West Bank, he would accept the will of the people. He added that if Israel were to make peace with him, it would empower those who want peace and decrease the likelihood of Hamas success in elections.