The end of September might be the end of peace talks, if Israel refuses to extend the settlement freeze, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the local daily newspaper al-Ayyam.’This was made clear to President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton and to the Israeli Prime Minister, and I told him ‘You have to know that if you don’t continue with the settlement freeze, we will leave these negotiations’,’ Abbas was quoted as saying.
This followed statements by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Minister of Defence Ehud Barak, in which they both clearly indicated that Israel will not renew the settlement freeze.
‘There is now a settlement freeze in place, and there is a fear that this freeze will be canceled now that we have resumed talks; there is a fear that settlements will resume construction everywhere. We say that if the settlement freeze is continued, then we will continue the negotiations, but if the freeze expires, then no one can force us to continue the talks.’
On the other hand, local observers maintain that despite Israel’s declaration of a settlement freeze, there was no real freeze. During the claimed 10-month freeze, Israeli settlement watchdog ‘Peace Now’ reported 492 violations of the freeze.
Based in part on aerial photographs, the group said construction had begun on at least 600 housing units in 60 different settlements.
These violations do not include settlement activities in East Jerusalem as the freeze did not include East Jerusalem.
When negotiations teams meet again alongside their US mediators, Abbas explained, the issues of borders and security will be first on the table, according to a report by al-Ayyam paper. The Palestinian president suggested a third party presence on the ground in order to assure security for the Israelis.
‘I told them that if they want assurances for their security we would accept a third party presence for a limited period of time, like what happened in the Sinai, we don’t mind having a foreign presence on the condition that it is not Israeli, be they Israeli Christians, Muslims or Druze; Israeli forces mean a continued occupation and this we are against.’
On the border issue, al-Ayyam reported that Abbas gave the border issue priority over security, saying that borders come first.
Abbas added that his approach to borders would begin with the 1967 lines and demarcating a Palestinian state from there. ‘Once we have the borders set, we can find a solution for Jerusalem, the water and the settlements,’ he said, adding that the issue of refugees would be tackled in the next round.
However Abbas warned that he is willing to resign if asked to give up the rights of Palestinian refugees.
‘I will not give up on any of the constants and if they ask me to make concessions on the right of refugees or the 1967 borders, I will leave. I will not accept it on myself to sign off on one single concession,’ he concluded.