Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told several MKs on Wednesday that he is willing to extend the negotiations with Israel for another nine months, but would want the first three months to focus on drawing the borders of the Palestinian state. During those three months, Abbas added, he would insist that all settlement activity be halted.
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The Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams are expected to meet again Thursday in an effort to arrive at a formula for extending the talks to the end of 2014.
In Ramallah, Abbas also made it clear to the MKs — Hilik Bar, Nahman Shai, and Michal Biran of Labor, and Nitzan Horowitz and Tamar Zandberg of Meretz — that he would also insist on the fourth prisoner release being carried out, including the release of 14 Israeli Arab prisoners.
“From the start of the talks it was clear that the Israeli Arabs were on the list,” Abbas reportedly said. “John Kerry promised me nine times that they would be released.”
Abbas told the MKs that there were five Israeli Arabs released in the exchange for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, as well as a resident of the Golan Heights, and that in the 1985 Jibril exchange there were Israeli Arabs released who had been involved in terror attacks. Thus, he said, the Israeli claim that releasing Israeli Arabs now was some kind of precedent was unjustified.
During the meeting Abbas stressed that the 15 international conventions that the Palestinians sought to join were chosen specifically because they did not harm Israel in any way. “We joined the conventions on the rights of the child and the fight against discrimination against women,” he said. “We deliberately did not approach the International Court at the Hague or United Nations agencies.” The move by the PA, which followed Israel’s refusal to release prisoners as scheduled and its announcement of 708 settlement housing tenders, set off Israeli sanctions against the authority.
According to the MKs, Abbas said that during the talks over the past eight months, there had never been serious discussion of the core issues, and certainly not about borders, as the Israeli side had refused to discuss them. He said that if the talks were extended, he wanted the first three months to be devoted to a serious discussion of borders and the presentation of maps. The meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators had been scheduled for Wednesday, but was delayed so special U.S. envoy Martin Indyk could attend. A senior Israeli official said the meeting was also postponed so it would not take place on the same day as the funeral of Israel Police Chief Supt. Baruch Mizrahi, who was killed in a terror attack Monday near Hebron.
The MKs said Abbas condemned the shooting attack that killed Mizrahi and wounded his wife, but noted that since the beginning of the year 60 Palestinians had been killed by IDF soldiers and Israel had not condemned any of the killings.
Earlier in the day, Palestinian Religious Affairs Minister Mahmoud al-Habash made similar remarks. A senior Israeli official, commenting on Habash’ remarks, called him “one of the biggest inciters against Israel.”
The MKs’ meeting with Abbas resulted from a Passover eve invitation from the Palestinian president to Bar, who leads the Knesset caucus for the two-state solution.
Zandberg, Horowitz and Shai noted that Abbas was in a good mood and made several jokes. “He didn’t sound like someone who was on the verge of a diplomatic crisis,” said Shai.
The MKs said Abbas told them that if the diplomatic stalemate continued, he would ask Israel to “take the keys” and take back responsibility for what was going on in the areas where the Palestinian Authority operates. “You don’t have to send tanks or use force,” he was quoted as saying. “Just send a junior officer, a second lieutenant, and we’ll give him the keys.”
When the MKs asked him why he refuses to recognize Israel as the Jewish state, he answered that it was none of the Palestinians’ business how Israel defines itself. “You brought a million Russians to Israel, of whom hundreds of thousands are not Jewish, but you want us to recognize you as the Jewish state,” he said. “You didn’t ask Jordan or Egypt in their peace treaties to recognize you as the Jewish state.”
Meanwhile, Channel 2 reported Wednesday that the head of the Shin Bet security service has recommended that if the government goes through with the final release of Palestinian prisoners in the peace talks, 10 of them be sent to the Gaza Strip or abroad.
At the start of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations nearly nine months ago, Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen suggested deporting some of the inmates to be released from Israeli prisons. The ten in question were all expected to be released during the fourth and last wave of prisoner releases, which was scheduled for March 29. All 104 prisoners on the release list were convicted of murder or attempted murder of Israelis and have been imprisoned since before the September 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords.
However, officials with the Palestinian Authority clarified they will refuse any offer that includes expelling the released prisoners to Gaza or any other location apart from their homes, and noted that this issue was decided upon even before the talks begun.
A Palestinian official who talked with Abbas said the Palestinian president, who met with families of some of the prisoners ahead of the Palestinian Prisoner Day, and said he "promised they will return to their homes, so that is what must be done."