Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Israeli journalists in Ramallah on Tuesday that he would be willing to extend the "preparation" for peace talks with Israel even after the April 29 deadline, as long as the latter demonstrated "seriousness" and presented offers that could advance negotiations - namely the release of prisoners and discussion of borders.
Abbas said that the sides "keep talking, and we will keep talking and call it 'preparation talks' for extending talks.'" But, he added, "what is important is for Israel's intention to be serious regarding the political negotiations and the two-state solution."
Abbas stressed that the renewal of talks must be based on two principles: First, the release of the fourth group of prisoners, as this is a move already committed to by Israel. The 30 prisoners to be released to their homes will include 14 Arabs Israelis. According to Abbas, any new condition such as deporting the prisoners would be considered a breach of the agreement.
The second principle is immediate discussion on the question of borders, to be conducted over a period of three months. Throughout this period the sides will focus solely on determining the border, and it will be accompanied by a full freeze of settlement construction.
Abbas spoke in a conciliatory tone, yet cautioned that the current situation cannot go on forever. He stressed that the Palestinian Authority in effect has no rule or sovereignty, no political or economic independence. "Formally," he said, "a junior Israeli officer could come in here and disperse this meeting, because we have no power or authority."
- Palestinians: Reshuffle the Deck
- Israel: Abbas 'Not Interested in Peace'
- China Welcomes Palestinian Unity Deal
Last Wednesday, Abbas met with a delegation of Israeli MKs and told them that if the political stalemate continued he would ask Israel to "take back the keys" - dismantle the PA and return responsibility for the West Bank to the Israeli government.
On Monday, the U.S. warned against unilateral steps to dismantle the Palestinian Authority, saying that such a move would have "grave implications on the relationship between the U.S. and the Palestinians.
During the meeting with journalists on Tuesday, Abbas said that the possibility of dismantling the PA was not an intentional Palestinian step, but rather a result of Israel's policies.
"Israel's policies toward us have taken away any and all authority from the PA, therefore if it's dismantled or not will not be relevant," he said. "We presented our framework for renewing the talks, and our willingness to continue the talks for nine more months, on condition that they focus on the core issues. If Israel is willing, and we reach an agreement and the end of the conflict, [Israel] would get peace with all Arab states under the Arab Initiative. If not – then please, let them take the PA and be responsible for everything, from paying salaries to taking care of civilian matters to security."
Abbas did not state an exact date after which communication between the sides would cease; he said that he passed on his position on the matter three years ago in a personal letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but has not received a response.
Abbas said that as far as he was concerned the security coordination with Israel would continue as long as he remains in office. "It is a duty, not a choice," he said. "Even when there was no negotiation we continued the security coordination in order to prevent bloodshed and chaos. Our relationship with the military and security ranks is good, and we are interested in maintaining it."
In that context, Abbas condemned the shooting attack near Hebron on the first night of Passover last week, in which Israel Police Chief Superintendent Baruch Mizrahi, 47, was killed. Nevertheless, he added that "last year 60 Palestinians were killed, and I did not hear one denunciation from Israel."