NABLUS, West Bank (AP) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday urged Barack Obama to get involved in Mideast peacemaking immediately after becoming U.S. president, and to endorse a pan-Arab plan that offers Israel recognition in return for a withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.
The “Arab Peace Initiative” was first proposed in 2002 by dozens of Arab countries that don’t have ties with Israel. It requires Israel to leave the lands it occupied in the 1967 Mideast War.
“We ask Obama to become immediately involved in the peace process, and to adopt the Arab initiative,” Abbas said at an economic conference in the West Bank city of Nablus.
Abbas’ appeal came after he took his case for a peace deal directly to the Israeli public. On Thursday, he ran full-page Hebrew-language newspaper ads telling readers the Arab plan would bring peace to the region.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, the chief negotiator with the Palestinians over the past year, has welcomed the plan as a positive gesture but says its positions on key issues such as final borders, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees are unacceptable.
Of the Arab countries that border Israel, only Egypt and Jordan have so far recognized Israel. Accepting the Arab plan, Abbas said, would give Israel full recognition by 57 Arab and Islamic states. “Instead of living in an island of peace it will live in an ocean of peace,” he said. However, a year of negotiations between Palestinians and Israel has not brought tangible results.
Abbas appeared unusually bitter Saturday, saying that Israel’s actions, such as continued construction of settlements and the West Bank separation barrier, contradict Israel’s declared willingness to make peace. :These acts truly make one wonder whether they (the Israelis) mean peace or not,” he said. “Those who want peace don’t do this. They don’t build a wall or a settlement in our throats … We are ready to stretch out our hands in peace, but all of these acts leave hatred in one’s soul.”
In another development, Abbas confirmed that Israel would free 250 prisoners before Eid al-Adha, an important Muslim holiday. The holiday is expected to take place on Dec. 8. Muslims follow a lunar calendar, and the expected date of religious holidays can vary slightly.
Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced last week he would release the prisoners as a goodwill gesture but did not give a date.
Olmert starts a farewell visit to Washington on Sunday to take his leave of U.S. President George W. Bush and take stock of understandings and agreements reached over the past eight years.
Each man would like to leave a Mideast blue print for his successor, but prospects are not bright.
Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu says he won’t continue talks in the current format if he wins Feb. 10 general elections, an outcome opinion polls predict is likely.
Whoever forms the next Israeli government will not be able to evict thousands of Jewish settlers who live deep in the West Bank without deeply polarizing Israeli society and may balk at the prospect.
Highlighting the potential for trouble, radical settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron are squaring off for a fight with their own army and police, after Israel’s Supreme Court ordered them out of a disputed building in the city. About 500 settlers live in guarded enclaves in Hebron, among 170,000 Palestinians.
Israel’s defense minister has pledged to forcibly evict them if they do not leave voluntarily but they so far show no sign of doing so.
Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai promised Saturday the settlers would be removed, but did not give a timetable.
On Saturday, thousands of Israelis visited Hebron to mark a religious observance at a shrine there. Palestinian residents said that some Israelis stoned a Palestinian home after worship.
There were no reports of injuries, but Israel Radio said two settlers were arrested, one for scuffling with a policeman and the other for entering a prohibited area.