PA won't agree to direct talks

Senior Abbas aide says "proximity" talks must first yield progress.

Abbas half smile profile 311 (photo credit: AP)
Abbas half smile profile 311
(photo credit: AP)
The Palestinian Authority said on Tuesday that it wouldn’t agree to direct negotiations with Israel as long as the proximity talks, which began last month, were not achieving any progress.
The announcement was made on the eve of PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s visit to Washington, where he is scheduled to hold talks with US President Barack Obama on the status of the Middle East peace process and the latest developments in the region.
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Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a senior aid to Abbas, said that the Palestinians had recently told US Middle East envoy George Mitchell that Israel’s request to launch direct negotiations was “unacceptable.” The Obama administration, however, is expected to make moving to direct talks a central issue in Abbas’s White House visit.
He is also likely to be asked about the issue when he appears at two Washington think tanks during his visit, including one that will host a dinner with Jewish leaders.
“They’re going to be pushing to move to direct talks,” said US Institute of Peace expert Scott Lasensky of White House officials.
He argued that the recent controversy over Israel’s deadly raid on a ship trying to break the Gaza embargo would add urgency to moving forward with negotiations, as the Gaza policy was sputtering and passions on all sides had intensified.
“This will end up accelerating the discussions on negotiations,” he predicted. “It sets a more rigid clock to get a deal.”
Abbas op-ed claims Netanyahu not ready for peace
Abbas himself, in an opinion piece published Tuesday in the Washington newspaper The Hill, wrote, “Despite the harsh realities imposed upon us, the Palestinian side intends to negotiate in good faith in order to end the state of conflict that has plagued our region for so long.”
He also stressed, “This round of negotiations provides an 11th-hour opportunity to achieve a permanent and lasting peace based on the two-state solution. For the opportunity not to be lost, courage and bold leadership are required.”
But when it came to how those negotiations would be furthered at this point, Abdel Rahim said that the Palestinians preferred to wait and see if the proximity talks achieved any agreement on the issues of borders and security during the four-month period allocated for the talks before deciding on their next move.
He claimed that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was not really interested in moving the peace process forward. On the contrary, he continued, “Netanyahu wants to destroy the peace process by ignoring the Arab Peace Initiative and the Quartet’s road map plan.”
Abdel Rahim said that the Palestinians didn’t rule out the possibility that forces belonging to a third party would be deployed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on a temporary basis.
The Abbas aide said that the PA was very keen on ending its dispute with Hamas. However, he blamed the Islamist movement’s “intransigence” for the failure of mediation efforts to solve the crisis.
Abbas’s visit to Washington comes as he continues to face immense pressure to achieve “reconciliation” with Hamas.
Parties pressuring Abbas to cooperate with Hamas
Earlier this week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Abbas during a meeting in Istanbul to patch up his differences with Hamas. Erdogan also offered to act as a mediator between the two parties.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, who is expected to visit the Gaza Strip shortly for the first time, has also offered his good offices.
Last weekend, Abbas met in Jordan with Jamal Khudari, an independent Palestinian legislator from the Gaza Strip with close ties to Hamas, and discussed with him ways of solving the crisis, Palestinian sources revealed. They said that Abbas had relayed a message to Hamas through Khudari to the effect that he was deeply interested in ending the power struggle that has split the West Bank from the Gaza Strip.
Azzam al-Ahmed, a Fatah official closely associated with Abbas, confirmed that the PA had been holding direct talks with Hamas in recent months.
He said that he personally was in contact with Hamas leaders Mahmoud Zahar in the Gaza Strip and Nasser Eddin Shaer and Samir Abu Aisheh in the West Bank.
Ahmed said he had told the Hamas leaders that aid ships wouldn’t end the blockade on the Gaza Strip.
“This is unrealistic, and it won’t happen,” the Fatah official said. “Hamas must know that the ships won’t lift the siege. Only national reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas will end the siege.”
Lasensky argued that working out a formula where the PA would retake control of the Gaza border, as was the arrangement before Hamas routed the forces assigned this duty as part of its takeover of the coastal strip, provided an opportunity for resolving the quandary over policy there.
“Getting the PA at the crossings is the first step to changing the regime in Gaza,” he assessed.
He said that with the Gaza flotilla confrontation dominating the headlines, at this point the US would send the message in Wednesday’s meeting that Abbas should bring down the temperature: “The administration would like him to calm the situation.”
Looking ahead of Wednesday’s agenda, fellow US Institute of Peace expert Lucy Kurtzer- Ellenbogen noted, “One of Abbas’s challenges here is trying to get back some of the spotlight and [look] in control.”