A diplomatic storm has erupted over comments Yasser Abed Rabbo, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, made yesterday to Haaretz. He said the Palestinians would be ready to recognize Israel in any form it wished if the American administration would simply present a map showing a future Palestinian state along the lines of the 1967 borders, including East Jerusalem.
The remarks prompted widespread condemnation, particularly because Islamic organizations view comments such as Abed Rabbo's as conceding the right of return to Israel of Palestinian refugees and as recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
Abed Rabbo, responding to a formula proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week through which Israel would extend the settlement construction freeze in return for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, Abed Rabbo told Haaretz: "We would like to be provided a draft of a map of the State of Israel that they would like us to recognize. If the map is based on the 1967 borders and [Israel] doesn't include our lands and our homes and East Jerusalem, we will be prepared to recognize Israel within about an hour in accordance with the administration's formula."
When he was asked if the significance of the matter was recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, Abed Rabbo responded: "It's important from our standpoint that we know where the borders of Israel are, and where the borders of Palestine are. Any formula that the Americans present, even if they call the State of Israel 'the Chinese state,' we would agree to, just as long as they give us the '67 borders. We have already recognized Israel in the past, but it has not recognized the Palestinian state."
Haaretz also asked Abed Rabbo if this was just his personal opinion or if the position represented the PLO. The comments represent both the PLO's position and his own, he replied.
Presumably, the Palestinian leadership is currently attempting to throw the ball back into Israel's court.
Palestinian parliament member Hassan Hareishe, who is considered independent, said Abed Rabbo should stand trial for his remarks. Hareishe said Abed Rabbo had crossed every red line, and the various factions of the PLO should make their positions clear on the subject.
It should be noted that Abed Rabbo heads the Palestinian side's involvement with the private Geneva Initiative. He is known as a moderate whose views are not accepted by many on the Palestinian side.
Conceding the right of return to Israel of Palestinian refugees, however, is accepted by a portion of the senior Palestinian leadership.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley welcomed Abed Rabbo's comments, saying they represent an exchange of ideas on how to successfully pursue the peace negotiations. He added that the exchange also provides a reminder that negotiations cannot be conducted by remote control and should be pursued through direct talks.
When asked whether the United States was prepared to present a map with future borders, he said the borders of Israel and of a future Palestinian state are a core issue that should be dealt with through direct negotiations. He said it was perfectly legitimate for the Palestinians to ask where the borders of a future state would be, but that is also a reason for talks to continue.
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