01/07/2010 Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in an apparent charm offensive aimed at the Israeli public, has told reporters from the Hebrew media he is willing to enter direct negotiations with the Netanyahu government, as soon as he hears from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu regarding Israel’s position on borders and security issues.
Abbas, in the briefing with Israeli journalists Tuesday in Ramallah, said that originally he wanted to hear from Netanyahu whether he was willing to accept the understandings agreed upon by his predecessor, Ehud Olmert.
At the end of 2008, Olmert offered Abbas 93.5-to-93.7 percent of the West Bank, a one-to-one swap for most of the rest, and an arrangement whereby no one would have sovereignty over the “holy basin” surrounding occupied Jerusalem’s Old City, but rather it would be administered by a consortium made up of the Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Saudis and Americans. Olmert also offered to accept a certain number of Palestinian refugees on humanitarian grounds.
When no answer from Netanyahu was forthcoming regarding the Olmert offer, Abbas said at Tuesday’s briefing, he sent a message through US envoy George Mitchell saying that he would suffice with an answer on only two of the issues: borders and security.
“Answers like these are necessary to see if we are speaking the same language, and then it will be possible to continue. It is preferable that direct talks will not explode after 10 minutes, and then who knows when we will be able to renew negotiations again,” Abbas said.
Abbas said he would be willing to engage in direct negotiations with Netanyahu as soon as he received an answer. “How can we go to direct negotiations when we don’t know the agenda of the negotiations?” he asked. “Is there an agreement to discuss the border and security issues? We don’t know.”
Abbas, who has come under pressure from the US to speak directly to the Israeli public, last spoke with the Israeli media when he gave an interview to Channel 2 at the end of April.
In Tuesday night’s briefing he laid out his “end game.” “Regarding borders, we call for the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 border, with east Jerusalem as our capital, and western Jerusalem your capital,” he was quoted as saying.
Abbas said that in principle, the Palestinians have agreed to alterations in the 1967 border, as long as it was done on a one-to-one ratio. He added that agreements on these matters were reached with the Olmert government, and on that basis maps were exchanged.
He also said the issue of security was discussed with Olmert. “I agreed that a third party will be in the territory, be it NATO, UNIFIL or another force. I don’t want an Israeli presence on my land. This way Israel will get security, and I will get sovereignty. I asked, through the Americans, for answers to these questions, but Netanyahu has still not responded.”
Netanyahu has said repeatedly that in any agreement, there would need to be an Israeli presence, at least initially, on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state.
Abbas also stressed that he would not compromise his position on occupied Jerusalem, and that there would not be a third intifada in the West Bank.
Abbas said that in his mind, Netanyahu was a partner for negotiations, and that he was not trying to replace negotiations with Israel with negotiations with the US. “My first and last partner is the Israeli government, that is the government that was elected, and the one we will work with,” he was quoted as saying.
Abbas said that former Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban was right when he said the Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. “To this day, I regret our rejection of the Partition Plan in 1947,” he said.
“Now I tell you Israelis – don’t miss the opportunity the Arab League has offered you with its peace initiative.”
Regarding captured Israeli occupation soldier Gilad Shalit, Abbas said he hoped an agreement would be reached to release him. “But I also say that there are 8,000 Palestinian prisoners, and they have families. I am in favor of an agreement that will release Gilad Schalit and the Palestinian prisoners.”
Abbas, who was in high spirits, joked with the Israeli guests and had photos taken with each of them. He told many anecdotes about his smoking habits. Between one cigarette and another, he disclosed that opposition leader Tzipi Livni used to smoke cigarillos and that he had smoked in Obama’s company.
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