The list of the Palestinians' demands in negotiations with Israel is coming together. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he will demand already in the stage of proximity talks that Israel transfer vast areas in the West Bank, including those currently under full and partial Israeli control, to sole Palestinian control.
Abbas said that he would also demand that the Jordan Valley be included in the territories to be transferred to the Palestinians, although Israel has made it clear that it will not accept any pre-conditions to peace talks.
In an interview with West Bank-published newspaper, al-Ayyam, Abbas said that talks with Israel will start immediately upon receipt of the Arab League's approval and a go-ahead from the PLO Executive Committee. He estimated that talks with Israel will last no longer than four months, but was pessimistic about their future.
Abbas during his visit to China. 'I don't want to lose hope' (Photo: AP)
"I do not want to lose hope, and prefer to remain hopeful even though I detect many hurdles and despite the sense that in Israel there are people uninterested in peace. We still must try to walk this path until we find it," Abbas said.
Abbas said that he would ask that Palestinian Authority operations be renewed in Jerusalem's Orient House, which was closed at the beginning of the last decade, and in the Palestinian commerce department in the east of the city.
"The objective is to restore within a few months the situation in the territories to the way it was before the intifada with a gradual and significant addition of land that will be transferred to full Palestinian control," explained Abbas.
The Palestinian leader also said that he would visit the United States in May in order to advance the peace process. "The American understood that establishing a Palestinian state is a strategic American interest, and therefore are investing many efforts in this," Abbas said.
'Unofficial' construction freeze
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat updated Arab foreign ministers during their meeting in Cairo that US President Barack Obama committed to the Palestinians that Israel's building freeze in east Jerusalem will continue "unofficially in order to prevent responses from extremists on the Right."
According to Erekat, Obama sent his commitment via US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell.
Ramat Shlomo. How many houses will be built? (Photo: AP)
Erekat said on Saturday night, "If Israel builds one house in the West Bank, Palestinians will immediately stop the negotiations."
Israel's rightist ministers responded quickly. National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau said, "I agree that not one house will be built in Ramat Shlomo, but many houses will be built. We don't have a partner. The Palestinians boycott Israeli goods. They name streets after suicide bombers, and sue us in every international court."
Neither was Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov optimistic about the prospects of peace talks. "With my hand on my heart, I don't believe the proximity talks will lead to anything, but if there is even a sliver of hope, it must be acted on," said Misezhnikov.
"I don't see a partner, especially not on the backdrop of the claims being made against building in the territories. You can't come to us with demands that we not build in our capital city. We will continue building there. However, we want to progress, and therefore need negotiations," said the tourism minister.
Science Minister Daniel Hershkowitz said, "Erekat's statements raise some quandaries. Clearly, it is difficult to have expectations from the proximity talks. We, after all, will build in Jerusalem, in the West Bank, and in all of the Land of Israel. If they stop the talks, what was is what will be."
Avishay Braverman, of the Labor Party, was the only minister optimistic about talks as he entered the cabinet meeting. "Though blows are being exchanged, I believe the talks will be good with American and Egyptian involvement," said the minister for minority affairs. "The time has come to move forward. This is a vital interest for the State of Israel. There is no other alternative outside of two states for two peoples living alongside one another."
Ali Waked, Roee Nahmias, and Roni Sofer contributed to this report