Abbas Stands Firm on PA's Condition for Peace Talks

PA President insists he would walk away from peace talks with Israel over refugees rights.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in interviews appearing yesterday that he has no intention of violating any principles that would be considered non-negotiable from the Palestinian standpoint.

In an interview granted with the East Jerusalem Al-Quds newspaper, Abbas said if he were pressed to make concessions on any of those issues, including the refugee question and borders, he would "pack his bags and leave."

He told the daily that he would halt negotiations if construction in West Bank Jewish settlements is resumed. He also said he has no intention of discussing recognition of Israel as a Jewish state with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"Israel can call itself what it wishes," he said.

Egyptian foreign minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit joined in the criticism of Israel's demand for recognition as the state of the Jewish people, explaining that the issue raised concern regarding the status of Israel's Arab population, even asking whether they would remain in the country or be expelled.

Channel 2 reported that Abbas complained to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over comments made by Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who called for the death of Abbas and the Palestinian people before the talks.

In trying to assuage the Palestinian leader's feelings, Netanyahu reportedly said Yosef attacks everyone, including Netanyahu himself.

Secretary Clinton issued a mild condemnation of the rabbi's statement in an apparent effort not to accord undo importance to the incident.

Netanyahu's office told Channel 2 that the Prime Minister was not accurately quoted and that the remarks attributed to Netanyahu do not reflect the high regard the prime minister has for Yosef.

The Shas party declined to comment.