RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinians should declare an independent state unilaterally if peace talks with Israel continue to falter, a top aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Wednesday.
It was not immediately clear if Abbas shared the view of Yasser Abed Rabbo, but Saeb Erekat, another senior Palestinian negotiator, voiced opposition to any unilateral declaration of independence.
Abed Rabbo, a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, made his comments a day after the latest round of top-level talks with Israel.
“If things are not going in the direction of actually halting settlement activities, if things are not going in the direction of continuous and serious negotiations, then we should take the step and announce our independence unilaterally,” Abed Rabbo told Reuters.
He drew an analogy to Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia on Sunday.
“Kosovo is not better than us. We deserve independence even before Kosovo, and we ask for the backing of the United States and the European Union for our independence,” Abed Rabbo said.
But Erekat said the Palestine Liberation Organisation had already declared independence in 1988.
“Now we need real independence, not a declaration. We need real independence by ending the occupation. We are not Kosovo. We are under Israeli occupation and for independence we need to acquire independence,” Erekat said.
Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met on Tuesday to accelerate U.S.-backed peace talks launched at a conference in Annapolis, Maryland in November, the first formal negotiations in seven years.
The negotiations, which Washington hopes will yield a statehood agreement this year, have been stalled by disputes over Israeli plans to build new homes on occupied land near Jerusalem and Olmert’s insistence on putting off talks on the fate of the holy city.
Abed Rabbo was the first senior Palestinian negotiator to discuss declaring independence unilaterally since a Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000.
“We are in favor of continuing negotiations, but Israel is buying time and trying to bypass the results of Annapolis…we won’t accept this and therefore we should declare independence,” Abed Rabbo said, without giving a timeframe for such a move.
He accused Israel of buying time to bolster Jewish settlements around Jerusalem and continue building a barrier in the occupied West Bank, cautioning that Palestinians could be left with a “fragmented state.”