Photo: Moshe Milner, GPO
Abbas with Olmert (archives)
Photo: Moshe Milner, GPO
Abbas: I'll work with any Israeli leader
Palestinian president admits peace deal delayed because of internal situation in Israel, rejects any possibility of partial 'declaration of principles'
As the election campaign in Israel heats up – and is mixed with the diplomatic and security-related dilemmas, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas clarifies he will work with any elected Israeli prime minister.


"Like I said about (US President-elect Barack) Obama and (presidential candidate John) McCain, here too we'll work with any elected prime minister – be it (Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi) Livni or (Likud Chairman Benjamin) Netanyahu," Abbas said Thursday in an interview with the London-based Arabic-language al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper.


Asked about the complex political situation in Israel, the Palestinian president noted, "(Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert is accused of many things and he now serves as a sort of replacement. But as long as he sits in the prime minister's chair, I'll meet with him."


The issues on the agenda, he said, are not only related to the permanent agreement. "Some deal with the prisoners, identity cards, roadblocks and the acts of aggression. There are daily issues which we must work on."


During the interview, Abbas agreed with remarks voiced recently by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, that the internal situation in Israel was what prevented an agreement.


"When a prime minister is under investigation, is forced to resign and is then demanded to sit at home, how can he work and how can we work with him? I'm not saying he's the reason for this – the internal situation in Israel is."


The Palestinian president went on to talk about the intensive talks with the resigning Israeli prime minister.


"Up to two-three months ago, the Israelis did not recognize the 1967 borders, especially in the West Bank. But along came Condoleezza Rice and said the West Bank means the '67 border, the Jordan River, the Dead Sea and the buffer zones – this is the first step. The second step is the borders, but we did not agree about them. They're offering one thing and we're offering another."


Obama made a promise

Asked whether he hopes to achieve in 2009 what he didn't achieve this year, Abbas replied, "We received a promise from Barak Obama twice – once during the campaign and once when he visited me – that the peace process would be a top priority.


"He promised he would not postpone the peace process in the Middle East. When we spoke after the elections he said, 'I'm still committed to what I told you.'"


The Palestinian president was next asked whether there was any truth in the media leaks in Israel, stating that Olmert and Vice President Haim Ramon were working to reach a declaration of principles before the end of the government's term.


"We reject a declaration of principles, reject a presidential statement and reject temporary solutions," Abbas clarified. "As long as there is no agreement on all the issues, we won't be able to move forward. What we agreed was that there won't be an agreement without us agreeing on everything."


Ahead of the official end of his tenure – at least according to Hamas – Abbas was asked whether he regrets becoming president.


"If I had the choice, I wouldn't choose it. I'm not holding on to this job. If you ask me, I'll say I don’t want to be president, but at the same time I have a responsibility and I cannot leave a vacuum. When I feel the Palestinian Authority and Fatah are moving forward on all levels, I'll say goodbye."


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