Netanyahu to U.S. congressman: Mideast peace possible within year
PM says he hopes Abbas won't abandon peace process, after Palestinian leader says he will refuse to concede to Israel over refugees or borders.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed concern Monday that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would abandon the peace process, after the latter declared that he would not concede to Israel on a number of core issues and would refuse to continue negotiations should construction resume in West Bank settlements.
Netanyahu told a delegation of visiting U.S. congressmen during a meeting at his bureau that there were still many issues left to discuss. He also said that he "believes it possible, through such direct and contiguous negotiations, held without breaks or delays, to achieve a peace agreement within a year", spokesman Nir Hefez said following the meeting.
Abbas told the East Jerusalem-based Al-Quds al-Araby newspaper earlier Monday that if forced to give in on the issues of refugees or borders, he would "pack my bags and leave".
The Palestinian president also vowed to cut off direct negotiations with Israel if construction were to resume in West Bank settlements and said he would refuse to bring to the table with Netanyahu recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. "Israel can call itself what it likes," Abbas told the East Jerusalem-based newspaper.
Abbas, on a tour of North African Arab countries to brief their leaders on the Washington talks, was quoted by other media on Monday as saying that the renewed peace talks would begin with discussion on the issue of borders and security, before moving on to other topics.
"If we want to start negotiations, then we will start with borders and then move to security because borders is important for us and security is important for them [Israel]," the Ramallah-based al-Ayyam daily on Monday cited Abbas as saying from Tripoli, Libya.
The direct talks, launched last Thursday in Washington, after a hiatus of nearly two years, are due to continue next week in Egypt.
The Palestinian leader said he would push for recognition of the de facto borders which existed before the June 1967 war as the borders of the future Palestinian state.
Abbas added that "if we agree on it [border] and demarcate it, then this means we have found a solution for Jerusalem, water and settlements and all that will be left are issues such as refugees and others, which we will discuss in the second stage."
He said that once a treaty is reached, Palestinians would not "accept any Israeli presence, whether civilian or military, on the Palestinian territories."
Abbas reiterated his position that the fresh negotiations would come to an end if Israel resumes construction in its West Bank settlements at the end of September, when a 10-month partial building freeze is due to end.
The negotiations, he said, "will be for this month. If the government of Israel extended the settlement freeze decision, we will continue in negotiations. If it does not, we will get out of these negotiations."
Abbas said he made this position clear to U.S. President Barack Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as to Netanyahu.
"There is already a freeze," said Abbas. "What we fear is that the freeze will be cancelled and they will resume settlement [construction] everywhere."
The Palestinian president's remarks came a day after Netanyahu said Israel and the Palestinian Authority would have to find new and original solutions to the issues standing in the way of achieving a peace deal.
In a debriefing to cabinet ministers at the weekly cabinet session in Jerusalem, prime minister said that Israel had "proven in the past that [it is] willing to go a long way in order to achieve peace, but this time, for us to succeed, we must learn from the lessons of the past and think in an original way."
"What is required is creative, novel thinking in order to resolve these complex issues," Netanyahu said.
One of the issues the premier may have alluded to in his remark is Israel's current settlement construction freeze, due to expire on September 26.
Speaking to Army Radio earlier Sunday, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Netanyahu did not mention the settlement moratorium during last week's summit, clarifying that the Israeli premier did not "mention the word freezing."
The Palestinian negotiator added, when asked what he thought Israel would decide on the matter, that the PA knows "his position and he knows our position. We will see what will happen in the next few days."
Erekat also told Army Radio he felt the two sides were interested in achieving a viable peace, saying that "the time now is for decisions not for negotiations."
Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit said Monday that Israel's demand to be officially recognized as a Jewish state was "a cause for concern", considering the growing Arab sector.
"Arabs make up 20% of Israel's population," Aboul Gheit told the Al-Arabiya media. "What will happen when they're 30%, say in 25 years?"