Israel rejects PA offer of secret talks

Gov't source: Proposal aims to circumvent road map before fighting terror.

abbas and bush ap 298  (photo credit: AP)
abbas and bush ap 298
(photo credit: AP)
Israel has rejected a Palestinian proposal to open secret negotiations, a senior government source told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday night. According to the source, the proposal aims at circumventing the road map while jumping to final status talks prior to clamping down on terrorist infrastructure. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas told AFP that during his recent visit to Washington, he had offered to the Americans to open a back channel of negotiations. "I hope the US and also the Israelis would accept my proposal," he said. According to Abbas, "I am absolutely convinced that if we are serious about things, together with the Israelis, nothing could prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state even before 2009. Abbas said Saturday he hopes US President George W. Bush would keep a pledge to oppose any Israeli actions that hamper peacemaking in the Middle East. "We obtained promises from American authorities and we hope they will be kept," Abbas said on a trip to Algeria after a weeklong tour of Europe and the United States. Sources briefed by the Palestinians following the meeting between presidents Abbas and Bush Thursday said that the US did not present Abbas with a demand to disarm Hamas before the elections, neither did they request that the candidates running in the elections sign a document denouncing terror. According to the sources, Abbas told Bush that he has no intention of forming a coalition with Hamas after the January elections, and for that reason there was no chance that the US would have to deal with elected Hamas officials holding cabinet positions. The official view of the US on the issue now is that while the Americans want to see Hamas disarmed, the question of how to deal with the armed groups should be left in the hands of the Palestinian Authority. Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East, David Welch, said Friday that "whatever way the political process unfolds for Palestinian elections is up to the Palestinians to decide". In a briefing to the foreign press in Washington, Welch added that the US and the international community still believe that there is a contradiction between having an election process and allowing armed groups to participate. "This contradiction must be addressed. How it is addressed is up to President Abbas and the Palestinian people. We ask that it be addressed", said Welch. A Senior State Department official said Friday that the question of Hamas participation in the Palestinian elections is a "tricky" one and that all sides are struggling to find a way to "stick to the principles of democracy and at the same time acknowledge the situation on the ground". The official stressed that confronting the armed groups is an obligation the Palestinian Authority has to undertake, but added that it is up to Abbas and his government to decide how to act on this demand. "It is not an optimal situation, but the elections are an important step towards the vision of peace", said the official. While presenting the issue of disarming Hamas as a "road map obligation", the senior official said there was no "moral equivalency" between that obligation and the Israeli obligations to dismantle outposts and freeze settlement activity. "There is no equivalency or symmetry", said the official. The US is focusing now less on the upcoming Palestinian elections and more on solving the problems of the Gaza border crossings and the link between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. According to the State Department official, solving these issues could make it easier for the Palestinians to live up to their commitments. "Our hope is that the government of Israel would work with the Palestinians to improve the situation on the ground", said the official, adding that the US was encouraged by the "pragmatic approach" of Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians concerning the Gaza crossings issue. With AP