Hamas: Netanyahu Emerged Triumphant From Summit With Obama, Abbas

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas: Partial halt to settlement construction does not constitute a freeze.

The Associated Press
Avi Issacharoff Haaretz Service
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The Associated Press
Avi Issacharoff Haaretz Service

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emerged as the winner following President Barack Obama's call for a renewal of Israeli-Palestinian talks "without preconditions," Hamas charged on Thursday.

The Palestinian Islamist group criticized Obama's call for a resumption of Mideast peace talks without preconditions - a move seen by some Palestinians as backpedaling from the American president's earlier demand for a freeze on Israeli settlement construction.

Hamas, whose political leadership is exiled in Syria, said the meeting with Obama that brought together Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in New York on Tuesday reasserted the U.S. administration's bias in favor of "the Zionist occupation," at the expense of Palestinian national rights.

Hamas said Netanyahu emerged as the triumphant and major beneficiary of the three-way meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

"Obama has outrageously gone back on his previous stand," said a statement from Hamas, which was faxed to The Associated Press.

Obama had in the past said all Israeli building must stop on lands the Palestinians claim for their future state. The Palestinians embraced this as a precondition for any peace talks.

But the U.S. leader appeared to have toned down the language at Tuesday's meeting, where he spoke of Israeli steps to restrain settlement activity.

Hamas said that restraining is not the same as freezing and urged Abbas to reject Obama's call.

Hamas, which is a bitter rival of Abbas' Fatah movement since the militants seized the Gaza strip in a bloody coup in June 2007, asked the Palestinian president to "stop all attempts to mislead and deceive our people by continuing to bet on futile and meaningless negotiations."

Just days after meeting with Netanyahu and Obama in New York, Abbas said Thursday that he saw no common ground on which to renew peace negotiations.

In an interview with the Al-Hayyat daily, Abbas called the Netanyahu government "a real problem."

The Palestinian leader added that he could not agree to Israel's compromise for a partial settlement freeze, which he said inherently implied continued construction.

"We can't accept the status quo because a partial halt means a continuation of settlements," he said. "Even if it is halted by 95 percent, it is still a continuation of settlement activities."

Abbas said that despite fundamental disagreements with Netanyahu over the terms of negotiations, he would keep talking to Israel about day-to-day issues that concern the Palestinians, including security and the economy. "We don't reject the principle of talks and dialogue," he said.

Abbas reiterated his stance that peace negotiations must resume from where former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government left off and insisted they include the core issues.

Some stride was made during talks with the Olmert government, said Abbas, adding: "There were maps drafted by both sides and proposals for territorial exchanges, and thus we cannot return to point zerio."

When asked whether he saw fundamental differences between the Palestinians and the Israelis which might stall negotiations even further, Abbas responded:

"The Netanyahu government is a real problem and there is no common ground for negotiations with it. Construction in the settlement is continuing, Netanyahu is declaring Jerusalem and [Palestinian] refugees topics not up for negotiations, so what is there to talk about?"

PA stands firm on settlement freeze, despite Obama speech

Senior Palestinian Authority officials had mixed reactions to U.S. Obama's remarks to the UN General Assembly Wednesday on achieving a comprehensive settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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.



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