Abbas: Netanyahu hasn't changed since last stint as PM
Palestinian president losing faith in PM's intentions to reach peace agreement, Israeli officials tell Haaretz.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is deeply suspicious of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and is losing faith in his intentions to reach a peace agreement, Israeli officials have told Haaretz.
"I know Netanyahu is pragmatic and everyone tells me he has changed," Abbas reportedly told the officials recently. "But I don't see it. I fear it's the same Netanyahu of 1996. How much longer can I still give him credit?"
Abbas reportedly said he missed former prime minister Ehud Olmert, with whom he had "almost closed [a deal]."
The prime minister is due to meet U.S. special envoy George Mitchell on Friday, ahead of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's arrival Saturday night.
Netanyahu is expected to tell Mitchell that if negotiations with the Palestinians are not resumed, he would be willing to consider talks on an interim agreement with the Palestinian Authority.
Abbas says that very little time remains to get the peace process back on track, according to the Israeli officials.
They say Abbas told them he hoped that Clinton's visit to the region and her talks in Israel would achieve a breakthrough.
"I'm willing to give Netanyahu one more chance. But we have no more than two to three weeks during which something must happen," an Israeli official quoted Abbas as saying.
An Israeli source said Abbas was extremely frustrated by Netanyahu and the changes in Israel's policy, and especially by the "extreme rhetoric."
Contrary to his past public statements about the large gaps between his positions and Olmert's, Abbas is now admitting that he almost had a deal with the previous prime minister.
"Olmert and I almost closed on everything. We almost reached an oral agreement on all issues," an Israeli official quoted him as saying.
Asked why he didn't accept Olmert's proposal, Abbas said that "there were problems," hinting at the corruption investigations that forced Olmert to resign, a source said.
Abbas and his associates Saeb Erekat and Yasser Abed Rabbo apparently believe that everything that happens in Jerusalem takes place with Netanyahu's approval and under his instructions. They told the Israeli officials they were convinced that Netanyahu had sent far-right activists to the Temple Mount and was trying to change the city's status quo.
Abbas told the Israelis that he was deeply concerned that Fridays's calm and stability would deteriorate into violence. Erekat, head of the Palestinian negotiating team, spoke of a danger of a third intifada.
Mitchell's aides are playing down any expectations about Clinton's visit. "There's no breakthrough and the differences between the parties remain," an American official said.
He added that the political background, including the possibility of PA elections in the next few months, is making progress with the Palestinians even more difficult.
Netanyahu is expected to ask Mitchell and Clinton to pressure Abbas to agree to resume peace talks. Netanyahu is expected to say he will make gestures toward the PA if talks are resumed.
He would also say that if the standstill continues he would consider other options such as interim agreements.