RAMALLAH - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants a negotiated peace agreement to include a clause stating that the conflict with Israel is over, he told a delegation from the Israeli left-wing party Meretz, headed by MK Zahava Gal-On, on Thursday.
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“People say that after signing a peace agreement we will still demand Haifa, Acre and Safed,” he said. “That is not true. Signing the agreement will signal the end of the conflict.”
Abbas further clarified that in any peace settlement the Palestinian state would agree to be demilitarized. He noted that during earlier negotiations with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert there was an agreement to post American soldiers in the West Bank to help maintain security.
“We don’t need planes or missiles. All we need is a strong police force,” said Abbas. “On the other hand, we want sovereignty and independence. I was criticized for saying that I don’t want a single Israeli soldier or settler in the Palestinian state. I meant any Israeli that is part of the occupation. I didn’t mean that I don’t want Jews or Israelis in the Palestinian state. We’ll welcome them as tourists or as people coming to do business. We just don’t want occupation forces.”
The meeting with Abbas was attended by Meretz’s Knesset members — Ilan Gilon, Nitzan Horowitz, Michal Rosin, Issawi Freij, Tamar Zandberg and Gal-On. The meeting was also attended by former ambassador to South Africa Ilan Baruch, Gal-On’s diplomatic advisor who is also responsible for the party’s contact with the Palestinian Authority. During the meeting, Gal-On told Abbas that Meretz would provide Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a “safety net” if he makes progress toward the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Abbas told the Meretz MKs that he is unhappy with the slow pace of the negotiations with Israel, and that Israel has been refusing the Palestinian proposal that the teams hold intensive peace talks with meetings at least every two days.
Abbas said that in the talks he held with Olmert in 2007-2008, the two met every two weeks with the two sides’ negotiating teams holding intensive negotiations between the meetings. In this round of talks, Abbas said, such negotiations are not being held in this manner.
“I hope we can accelerate the rate of the meetings,” Abbas told the Meretz delegates. “We wanted the meetings between negotiating teams to take place every day or every second day, and not once a week or every 10 days like the Israelis want. I don’t know why they don’t want to. We don’t have much time.”
Abbas said that the third round of talks between Israel and the Palestinians that took place on Tuesday was held in Jericho, and not Jerusalem as Israel claimed. He added that the Palestinians wanted United States envoy Martin Indyk to take an active role in the talks and be present at the negotiations, but Israel opposed this. “We decided not to make a big deal of it,” he said.
According to Abbas, there were no advances in the negotiations during the last three rounds of negotiations and the talks are still in their preliminary stages. He stated that each side was slated to present its opening positions regarding each of the core issues — borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements and water — after which the two sides will enter detailed discussions on each of the issues.
“I know that in the beginning each side sticks to its starting positions but we hope that later on we make advances,” Abbas said. “I can’t say that I’m optimistic, but I hope we aren’t just wasting our time. In the end, the negotiations may generate a dynamic of its own in a way that would create in each of the sides an interest in reaching an agreement and a fear of what would happen if no agreement is reached.”
Abbas stressed that despite the fact that the talks are taking place between Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat at this stage, he has no problem with nor any reservations regarding meeting with Netanyahu.
Abbas stressed that he was aware that many in the Likud leadership, as well as that of the Habayit Hayehudi, are opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
“I don’t know what Netanyahu’s intentions are and what’s going through his head”, he said, “but I have my opposition too and there were demonstrations here against the renewal of negotiations. I respect the demonstrators but I’m determined and serious about making progress towards achieving peace. Without peace there will be tragedies here. There is an opportunity now. Look at what’s happening all around us. Everything is in turmoil. Now is the time to reach an agreement.” Abbas said that he intends to put any agreement to a referendum and that he’s convinced that a majority of Palestinians will support it.
Abbas noted that the negotiations have to deal with future borders of the Palestinian state. He said that Palestinians would accept changes to the 1967 borders as part of land swap agreements. “Let’s lay down a map and start marking the borders,” he said.
The Palestinian president was asked during the meeting whether he would agree to some Jewish settlements remaining under Palestinian sovereignty after the signing of a peace agreement. In reply, he did not dismiss this possibility. “These are details that need to be discussed. Every topic is up for negotiation, keeping an open mind. I’m not ready at this point to discuss specific settlements. Let’s begin with demarcating the borders and then we can see.”
Abbas said that his goal was to reach a final agreement and not an interim one. He would, however, be willing to implement any agreement in stages. “In the absence of a final agreement that ends the conflict different elements will look for ways to sabotage things and derail the process”, he said. “I don’t want a Palestinian state with temporary borders but I’m willing to implement the process in stages. We’ll sign an agreement and implement it over several years just like you did in the agreement with Egypt over the withdrawal from Sinai.”