Abbas: Obama knows West Bank building will ruin talks
Hours before leaving for Washington for peace talks, Palestinian president says he notified US, international officials that Israel will bear sole and full responsibility should talks collapse due to settlement building. 'Israel's security can't continue to be excuse for continued occupation,' he says
In shadows of wall-to-wall criticism on the Palestinian street against direct talks with Israel, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday just before leaving for Washington for the launch of the peace talks that Israel alone will bear sole responsibility should talks collapse due to continued settlement building.
Abbas said during a speech in Ramallah that negotiations will be based on the Mideast Quartet statement emphasizing the need to put an end to the "occupation" in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. He emphasized that the statement called for an end to the settlements, an end to the occupation, and an end to unilateral moves.
"We are going into negotiations armed with these principles and obligations," said Abbas. According to him, the central issues in the talks will be Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements, security, water, and the release of prisoners.
The Palestinian president noted that negotiations are an additional arena for his people's struggle, which he noted is the last nation to still suffer from military occupation and settlement of its territory.
"Negotiations must be serious and must ensure that Palestinians be released from the yoke of the occupation," he said. "We hope to find in Israel a partner capable to making responsible decisions in order to put an end to the occupation."
Abbas asserted that the talks must lead to an agreement that will ensure peace and security to both sides, "but security must not continue to be a security for the continuation of the occupation and settlements. I clearly state today that we notified the Americans and international officials that Israel will bear sole and full responsibility for the collapse of negotiations should settlement building continue."
'Netanyahu will wait until the last minute'
Abbas mentioned that the talks are being undertaken with sponsorship from the US, the Mideast Quartet, Egypt, and Jordan, and that "the Palestinians, prior to agreeing to negotiations, consulted their Arab brothers and laid the foundation of the negotiations together."
Abbas addressed the international Palestinian arena and said that disagreement over entering into negotiations is legitimate. "Our democracy promises participation in the effort even to those who don't agree with us," said the president, just days after Palestinian security officials forcefully dispersed a conference of people opposed to negotiations in Ramallah.
Senior Palestinian officials admitted that it would not be possible to force Israel to completely abandon construction in the West Bank in light of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition restraints.
However, an influential Palestinian source hinted that if Netanyahu would be willing to open direct talks with an agreement on the 1967 borders for a Palestinian state, the question of construction would be less crucial in reaching an agreement.
According to the source, the PA is worried that if the talks fail, the main beneficiary will be Hamas. "There is no intention to sabotage the negotiations," the source said in closed talks.
However, aides close to Netanyahu insisted on Sunday that "there is no way Netanyahu will agree to the 1967 borders. At a time when the Americans are withdrawing from Iraq, and the eastern front is returning, there is no chance for Palestinian control in the Jordan Valley."
The Palestinian leadership is at odds over how to respond in case Israel does resume construction in the West Bank after the moratorium expires on September 26. Some officials have stressed that the Palestinians should not be the ones to quit the negotiations, while others contend that in case settlement building resumes, the Palestinians should walk out on the negotiations, even if such a move would serve Israel's interests.
According to the latter group, the make up of Netanyahu's government allows for almost no leeway.
The Palestinians realized that rejecting US President Barack Obama's call to launch direct talks would prompt donor nations to stop funneling money to the Authority.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu consulted on Sunday with his senior advisors and members of the limited negotiation team that will conduct the talks with the Palestinians in order to prepare for the trip to Washington.
As of now, it remains unclear what Israel's official stance will be on the continuation of the moratorium imposed on West Bank settlement construction. Netanyahu said that cabinet's decision to renew building upon the expiration of the freeze still stands.
A Likud official close with the prime minister said, "It is very hard to believe that construction will not resume."
On the other hand, some estimate that Netanyahu will ask to wait on making a decision "until the last minute," and will act in accordance with the reality stemming from the direct talks. In other words, should the US apply heavy pressure, Netanyahu will take action to find a creative solution that will prevent the implosion of talks.
Officials in the political establishment noted on Saturday that one of the economic possibilities recently raised in various discussions it to allow more Palestinians to enter Israel for work at the expense of foreign workers in order to improve the economic status of West Bank Palestinians and signal to them that peace will help raise their standard of living under PA leadership.
Some members of the coalition have already threatened resignation from the government should the building freeze continue. Senior Habayit Hayehudi officials said the part will not be able to remain n Netanyahu's coalition if he does not renew settlement construction.
Attila Somfalvi contributed to the report
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