Officials admit US exerted pressure on Abbas to enter direct talks.
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
In light of the Arab League’s decision last week to authorize the Palestinian Authority to negotiate directly with Israel, PA officials denied that they have abandoned their conditions for holding such talks.The PA has been accused by its rivals in Hamas of lying to the Palestinians about its readiness to enter into direct negotiations.RELATED:Opinion: From flag to statehood?Opinion: Israel needs a Palestinian stateSome Palestinian groups criticized the Arab League for “surrendering” to pressure without insisting on written assurances about the future of the peace talks.The Arab League’s decision to endorse the direct talks with Israel is the result of heavy and unprecedented American and European pressure, a senior PA official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post over the weekend.The official said that the US administration had also exerted immense pressure on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to agree to unconditional direct talks with Israel.“The pressure on President Abbas undermines the PA’s standing among Palestinians,” the official cautioned. “The Americans and Europeans are making us lose our credibility.”AdvertisementErekat denies reports talks will begin after RamadanChief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat confirmed that the Palestinians and Arabs had come under heavy pressure from the US and the EU to agree to direct negotiations.However, he denied that the Palestinians were planning to begin the talks with Israel after Ramadan, which this year ends in mid-September.“The question is not whether the negotiations will take place after Ramadan,” he said. “We want to resume the negotiations, but the key is in the hands of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The moment he agrees to stop settlement construction, including in Jerusalem, and accepts the two-state solution, we will have direct talks.”Erekat accused the Israeli media of lying by saying the PA has agreed to direct negotiations. “Ninety-nine percent of what is published in the Israeli media is lies,” he told the Bethlehem-based Maan news agency. “Israel is always releasing test balloons.”Erekat also denied that the Egyptians have been pressuring the PA to agree to direct talks.Ashrawi: The pressure was tantamount to extortionPLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi, a member of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s Third Way party, said that the US administration had threatened to “isolate” the Palestinians if they refused to enter into direct talks.“The pressure was tantamount to extortion,” Ashrawi told the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper. “I never saw such pressure on the Palestinians in the history of negotiations with Israel.”She said that the Europeans, at the request of the Obama administration, had also exerted heavy pressure not only on the Palestinians, but also the Arab countries.Ashrawi said that Washington had hinted that financial aid to the PA would be affected if the Palestinians continue to reject direct negotiations.She described the Arab League decision to endorse direct talks as an effort to “appease” the Americans.She added that Palestinian conditions for entering direct talks remained unchanged, namely that Israel should freeze all settlement construction and accept the twostate solution on the basis of the pre- 1967 lines.PA: Proximity talks have not achieved anythingAshrawi and other PA representatives stressed over the weekend that the “proximity talks” that have been taking place in the past few months have not achieved anything.“The Israelis have yet to respond to questions raised by the Palestinians about the borders and security of a Palestinian state,” Ashrawi said.Meanwhile, State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said Friday that the US was evaluating a letter it received from the Arab Peace Initiative Committee, which he said “entails how direct negotiations would unfold.”He added, “We have been trading ideas with the parties so that everyone has the right expectations should Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas agree to move forward into direct negotiations. We want to see them get into direct negotiations as quickly as possible and that will be our focus in the coming days.”Ban tells Barak freeze should extend to east JerusalemAlso Friday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak in New York.“They discussed a range of issues, including Lebanon and the situation in Gaza, on which the secretary-general underscored the importance of a further easing of the closures,” Ban’s office said in a statement.The secretary-general said that Israel should continue its restraint on settlement activity and should extend it to east Jerusalem, as well as take other steps that Ban thought could help efforts to proceed to direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.Hilary Leila Krieger, Tovah Lazaroff and Jordana Horn in New York contributed to this report.
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