PA decision to negotiate directly with Israel draws condemnation.
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
The Palestinian Authority’s decision to negotiate directly with Israel drew strong condemnation over the weekend from most of the Palestinian factions, whose leaders and spokesmen accused PA President Mahmoud Abbas of “surrendering” to American and Israeli pressure.A PA official in Ramallah, meanwhile, confirmed that the Palestinians did not receive any “assurances” from the US as to what the direct talks would lead to.RELATED:Ban urges sides not to 'waste' talksDistortion and deception consistent tools against IsraelNew bid for peace to start on Sept. 2The official also said the PA did not receive any guarantees that Israel would halt construction in areas populated by Jews in east Jerusalem.Advertisement“All we have is a promise from the US administration and the Europeans that the talks would lead to a two-state solution,” the official told The Jerusalem Post.Asked why the PA had dropped its conditions for launching direct talks with Israel, the official explained: “The Palestinian Authority faced unprecedented and immense pressure from the Americans and some Europeans. We were not able to resist the pressure.”With the exception of the PLO Executive Committee, an unelected body dominated by Abbas loyalists, Palestinians across the political spectrum were united in denouncing the PA’s “capitulation.”The committee held a special meeting in Ramallah on Friday night to discuss the US invitation to the PA and Israel to begin direct talks in Washington at the beginning of next month.The committee said it supported the planned talks because they were being held on the basis of a Quartet statement that was issued earlier this year and which called, among other things, for a total cessation of settlement activities.The committee also noted that the Quartet statement had made it clear that the international community does not recognize Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem.However, the committee also warned that failure to comply with the Quartet’s call for a cessation of settlement construction would “jeopardize” the direct talks.Abbas also seemed to have won the backing of a majority of his Fatah faction. Top Fatah representatives such as Muhammed Dahlan, who until last week was strongly opposed to direct talks, said he saw the Quartet statement as a “positive” development that increased the prospects of launching the negotiations.Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said after the executive committee meeting that the Palestinians would withdraw from the direct talks if Israel “announced the construction of new settlements.”If the Israeli government decides on September 26 to resume settlement construction, there will be no talks, he said, referring to the date when the 10- month moratorium on settlement housing starts expires.Hanna Amireh, another committee member, said the Palestinians were determined to quit the talks “even if Israel builds one house in the settlements.”He said that as far as the Palestinians are concerned, the talks are being launched on the basis of last March’s Quartet statement in Moscow, which also called for the establishment of a viable, independent and democratic Palestinian state.Several Palestinian factions accused the PA leadership of abandoning its conditions and succumbing to outside pressure.The groups also warned that Abbas does not have a mandate to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians since his term in office had expired in January.The groups said that a majority of Palestinians would not accept any agreement reached with Israel “under US pressure and threats.”Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that the US invitation to the direct talks was designed to deceive the Palestinians.“At the end of 2007, the Palestinians went to the Annapolis conference and returned empty-handed,” Abu Zuhri said. “Three years later, we are starting again from the beginning.”The Hamas spokesman pointed out that the US invitation had also ignored previous US demands for a freeze of settlement construction.“Talks under the current conditions mean legitimizing settlements and accepting their existence,” he said.Islamic Jihad attacked the PA leadership and accused Abbas of harming the “national interests” of the Palestinians.Daoud Shihab, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad, said that negotiations have not achieved anything for the Palestinians. “On the contrary, these talks harm the higher national interests of our people and give the occupation an excuse to continue with its aggression and plans to Judaize Jerusalem.”Shiuhab cautioned that the resumption of the peace talks would deepen divisions among the Palestinians, especially between Fatah and Hamas.The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and its sister group, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, joined the chorus of those criticizing the PA for agreeing to enter into direct talks.The two radical groups said that the decision to launch direct talks with Israel unconditionally was in violation of previous statements made by the PA, namely that there would not be talks unless Israel agreed to a complete cessation of settlement activities and accepted the two-state solution on the basis of the pre-1967 lines.Last week, some 600 Palestinian organizations and individuals signed a petition urging Abbas not to succumb to pressure and launch talks with Israel.Tayseer Khaled, one of the few PLO Executive Committee officials to oppose direct talks, said the US invitation to hold direct talks in Washington unconditionally “poses a grave assault of Palestinian national consensus.”He noted that the PLO and Fatah, whose leaders are now backing the talks, had until recently announced their vehement opposition to entering direct talks unconditionally and without real assurances that Israel would stop building in the settlements.Palestinian political analyst Hani al-Masri said the Palestinians were being dragged to the talks “completely naked, and without even a fig leaf.” The PA leadership was making a “grave mistake” by entering the talks in accordance with Israeli “conditions,” he said.This is “political suicide” for the PA leadership, Masri said. “In the future, Palestinian negotiators will come under even greater pressure.“Participation in the negotiations will also exacerbate differences among Palestinians and harm the credibility of the Palestinian leadership, which for the past two years has been insisting that it won’t enter direct talks with Israel [without an] agreement on the terms of reference and a settlement freeze,” he added.
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