Abbas offers 6-month talks with settlement freeze

PA president says talks should resume from where Olmert left them; ministers pledge to give fiscally shaky PA $100m.

Abbas at Arab League meeting 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Dabbouss)
Abbas at Arab League meeting 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Dabbouss)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas urged the Arab League on Sunday not to withdraw its 2002 peace initiative as he called instead for renewed negotiations with Israel for six months.
He told the League in Doha he would demand that Israel freeze West Bank settlement construction and Jewish building in east Jerusalem during that time.
Abbas’s comments came in response to statements by Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jasem al-Thani, who called on the Arabs to reconsider their 2002 peace initiative.
Abbas’s offer marks the first time that he has placed a time-frame on his consistent call for Israel to halt Jewish building over the pre-1967 line since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took office in March 2009. They come on the heels of an Israeli announcement that it plans to build thousands of new settler homes, including the development of E1 in the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement.
Israel has insisted that direct talks with the Palestinians should be held without preconditions.
An official reiterated that stance on Sunday in response to Abbas’s words. By placing conditions on talks, the official said, the Palestinian leader is simply looking for excuses not to make peace.
Abbas issued new conditions for renewed negotiations with Israel at the Doha meeting in Qatar, less than two weeks after the UN General Assembly upgraded the Palestinian status to that of non-member observer state.
Negotiations should start from the point where they ended during the era of former prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2008, Abbas said.
The negotiations would lead to agreement on the core issues and an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines, Abbas told the Arab League.
Abbas and Netanyahu are sharply divided on the issue of the pre-1967 lines, with Israel insisting that any agreement must modify that line to accommodate the settlement blocs. Olmert in contrast had said that a final-status agreement would be based on the pre-1967 line with land swaps.
An Israeli official noted that settlement construction had continued while Abbas and Olmert negotiated and urged the Palestinian leader to offer Netanyahu the same conditions.
The official also noted that Netanyahu was the only prime minister to have imposed a 10-month moratorium on new housing starts in West Bank settlements.
But the Palestinians, he said, were not satisfied with that gesture which lasted from November 2009 until September 2010.
On Sunday, Abbas told the Arab League that only a full six-month settlement freeze, including Jewish building in east Jerusalem, could jumpstart negotiations.
He told the delegates, “We want to discuss with you a mechanism that would lead to an Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian and Arab territories, including Jerusalem, the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails and halting settlement construction.”
“If this happens, there could be feasible negotiations. Also, we could return to the point where we stopped during the era of Ehud Olmert’s government, when we put all the final-status issues on the table. We reached many understandings on over these issues,” Abbas added.
Abbas said that the two sides reached understandings on the borders, Jerusalem and the refugees.
The PA will not agree to return to the negotiations from point zero, he stressed.
“Netanyahu wants us to eliminate the issue of refugees,” Abbas added. “We won’t accept this. We also don’t accept the presence of the Israeli army in the Jordan Valley.”
Abbas also called for “keeping the [2002] Arab Peace Initiative on the table." He rejected demands by some Arab countries to abandon the initiative, saying it was the only Arab peace plan since 1948 that says that Arabs wants a real peace.
“This is a very important initiative,” he said. “If we remove it, the alternative would be war, or no peace and no war. Are we ready for war? No, we are not ready for war.”
But Thani told the Arab ministers they should reconsider the Arab Peace Initiative.
“We said from the outset that the Arab Peace Initiative won’t last forever. We don’t seek peace at any price. For us, peace does not mean capitulation,” Thani said.
Abbas also cautioned that the PA was on the verge of collapse despite the UN vote in favor of upgrading the Palestinians’ status. He called on the Arab ministers to provide financial assistance.
The Arab League ministers decided to provide the PA with $100 million per month in light of Israel’s decision to withhold tax revenues belonging to the Palestinians against their debt to the Israel Electric Corporation.