Palestinians hold firm on settlement freeze demand despite Obama speech
Poll finds 55 percent of Palestinians support a two-state solution to the Mideast conflict.
Senior Palestinian Authority officials had mixed reactions to U.S. President Barack Obama's remarks to the UN General Assembly Wednesday on achieving a comprehensive settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas and members of the Palestinian delegation to the UN were pleased with Obama's statement that Washington is pursuing a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, as Abbas has that diplomatic talks with Israel with Israel cannot begin unless it is clear that the 1967 lines are the goal. But the officials expressed displeasure with Obama's declaration that negotiations with Israel should begin without preconditions.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, who heads both the Palestine Liberation Organization's executive committee and the PA negotiating team, said the PA was pleased with Obama's decision to hold another round of preliminary talks in the interest of bridging the gaps between the parties.
"Still, our message is clear - we have not retreated from our demands, and relinquishing them will lead to a diplomatic disaster," he said.
Also Wednesday, a meeting of donor countries to the Palestinians that was held alongside the General Assembly promised $400 million to the PA by the end of the year.
The Ramallah-based newspaper Al-Ayyam reported Wednesday that Obama told Abbas the U.S. position on West Bank settlements remains unchanged, but that no issue should delay the start of peace talks.
Abbas said the PA does not have preconditions for renewing talks, but "it is unacceptable for negotiations to resume while the Israeli side does not respect its obligations under the road map [peace plan]."
Abbas said two issues must be agreed on before talks begin: freezing West Bank settlement construction, and stipulating an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines as the basis for the talks.
A poll conducted by the International Peace Academy, headed by former UN envoy to the region Terje Roed-Larsen, found that 55 percent of Palestinians support a two-state solution to the Mideast conflict, while two thirds support the Arab Peace Initiative. However, the poll did not offer respondents the option of choosing a single Palestinian state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
The survey also found that 70 percent of Palestinians do not support Obama, while 56 percent said they do not expect him to achieve progress toward a Palestinian state.
Fully 55 percent of respondents said they are pleased with Abbas's leadership, but only 36 percent were satisfied with Ismail Haniyeh's Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip.
The poll was conducted in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.