Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for the first time spoke about the Palestinian demands for extending peace talks: A three months freeze in settlement construction during which time talks would focus on delineating the border of the future Palestinian state.
"If Israel believes in the two state solution… let us define the borders – where Israel will be and where Palestine will be," he said in a special press conference to Israel journalists covering peace talks Tuesday.
The Palestinian negotiating team reportedly warned US mediator Martin Indyk last week that they may decide to dismantle the Authority if talks fail. Palestinians have previously raised the possibility of dissolving the PA, created as a result of the 1993 Oslo Accords to administer the autonomous areas of the West Bank, but this is the first time the threat is wielded since the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks under the auspices of US Secretary of State John Kerry last July.
Abbas: We want talks to continue (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Abbas' move, that would leave Israel responsible for 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank, was first exposed in Yedioth Ahronoth.
"If the negotiations stop, it's the Israeli government that will bear the responsibility for the economic situation and the paying of the salaries of (Palestinian) employees, workers and farmers, for health and for education just as it did before the establishment of the Authority," he told the reporters visiting his presidential headquarters in Ramallah.
"Also it will bear responsibility for security, meaning Israel will bear full responsibility ... We hope that we won't come to this period but that we come to solutions," he said.
According to Abbas, the US demanded the talks be extended by nine months, a condition the PA was willing to accept on two conditions: Firstly that the first three months would be dedicated to discussing final border arrangements; secondly, that during this period Israel will freeze settlement construction in the West Bank.
"This is what we demand for talks to continue," Abbas told the Israeli journalist. "We do not have dozens of demands, as was reported. If we complete the maps in a week or three weeks – Israel will have to freeze settlement construction during this time."
The US-brokered negotiations, which began in July, plunged into crisis after Israel, demanding a Palestinian commitment to continue talking beyond an April 29 deadline for a peace deal, failed to carry out a promised release of about two dozen Palestinian prisoners – including a group of Israel-Arab terrorist whose release has threatened the coalition.
Abbas responded by signing 15 treaties, including the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war and occupations, on behalf of the State of Palestine, a defiant move that surprised Washington and angered Israel.
According to Abbas, though the issue had no direct bearing on peace talks, the PA are still adamant in their demand that Israel release the group for talks to continue. According to him, Israel should free the prisoners because the Palestinians have made good on their part of the bargain: Freezing their move to join international organizations while talks are still ongoing.
He also detailed the chain of events which eventually failed to see the prisoners released: "We heard for the first time that Israel is demanding that 14 Israeli-Arabs
will be deported – or instead that 10 West Bank prisoners will be deported. But this was not part of the agreement."
Abbas further said that days before the scheduled release talks were in full swing, and that the Israelis reportedly said that the ministerial committee in charge of authorizing the release was set to convene to vote on the issue – something that eventually never happened.
Similar comments were made by US Secretary of State Kerry in what has been dubbed the 'poof speech'
during a Senate hearing on peace talks: "The prisoners were not released by Israel on the day they were supposed to be released and then another day passed and another day – and then 700 units were approved in Jerusalem and then poof…".
Abbas said that the PA had said that should Israel fail to release the prisoners they would renew their bid to join international organizations: "We made it clear that if Israel doesn't release the 30 prisoners as part of the fourth tranche, we will petition international organizations. These things were given to the Israeli government in writing. When we learned that the ministerial committee did not meet, the Palestinian leadership convened to join 15 international organizations and treaties."
Abbas further stressed that the Palestinians are more that interested in continuing negotiations and that peace tops their priorities. The Palestinians, he claimed, want to see real results and thus they are willing to sit and talk every day of the week.
"We are a partner, if there are Israeli ministers who claim otherwise that is their problem. We want the two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 border, in which the two states will leave in peace and stability side by side."
If peace is attained, Israel will receive automatic recognition by all Arab and Muslim countries: "Image how the relations between Israel and the Arab and Muslim world will be – from Mauritania to Indonesia – all will have relations with Israel. We want to see and end to this painful part on the history of both peoples and open a new stage for our children's sake. "
The United States warned Monday that dismantling the Palestinian Authority would hurt the Palestinians' ties with the US and the aide it provides them.
During the Mimouna celebrations in Or Akiva, Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed Abbas' proposal and the scheduled reconciliation meeting with Hamas in Gaza: "Yesterday the Palestinian Authority discussed dismantling, today it is mulling uniting with Hamas. Let them decide whether to dismantle or unite.
"When they want peace, they should let us know. Because we want a lasting peace. Today, on a holiday, our enemies launched rockets on our towns, and our policy is clear – respond with immediacy and intensity."
Reuters and AFP contributed to this report