London, Cairo, Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has revealed that there is an obstacle in the “proximity talks” that are taking place between the Palestinians and Israelis via US Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell. President Abbas, who is currently in Jordan receiving medical treatment for his back, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the current situation is similar to the Arab proverb “his weapon broke at the first invasion” in the sense that as soon as negotiations began the Israelis said that there was no understanding about putting a stop to settlement building, especially in eastern Jerusalem. Abbas added that “this is a problem between them (the Israelis) and the Americans, and it is up to the Americans to solve this.”
President Abbas had previously informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the Palestinians had returned to indirect negotiations or “proximity talks” after receiving a pledge from the US that Washington would hold both sides accountable for any provocation. Abbas told Asharq Al-Awsat “settlement building represents a provocation to us.”
Meanwhile chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Asharq Al-Awsat that “what is taking place is not negotiations with Israel but rather talks between us and the American side with a third party on the line…over final status issues such as borders, security, water, Jerusalem, and refugees and settlers, in addition to prisoner release.” Erekat, who returned to the Palestinian territories yesterday following a visit to Cairo and who seemed displeased at the public’s misunderstanding of the nature of the Palestinian – Israeli negotiations said that the focus is currently on security and borders. He also stressed that the Palestinians have nothing to do with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu statments, for he can say what he likes.
Erekat added “I say to the Arab world that people have the right to ideologically and intellectually oppose the peace process and the negotiations, but I do not know if they have the right to test its credibility and attack it on the basis of what Netanyahu says.”
Erekat also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Netanyahu is attempting to destroy US peace efforts through settlement building in occupied Jerusalem…and we have asked for the US administration to intervene and compel him [to stop].” He also reiterated that the negotiations that are taking place are merely “proximity talks” and this is the same term used by Peace Envoy Mitchell during the 1998 Northern Ireland peace talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement.
Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior member of the Fatah Central Committee described the state of the talks as being “fragile.” Al-Ahmed told Asharq Al-Awsat “We are giving the US an opportunity to bridge the gap in the views on the final status issues, and what is happening today is not talks, for the talks will begin on 17 May after Mitchell returns to the region.” Al-Ahmed added that US Envoy George Mitchell has put in place a 3-month timetable for talks to be concluded, with each round of talks lasting 5 days.
Al-Ahmed also said that President Abbas will lead the Palestinian negotiations, and that Mitchell will personally travel between the two parties (Abbas and Netanyahu).
Egypt, Palestine, and the Arab League, renewed their absolute rejection for any temporary or provisional solutions towards the establishment of a Palestinian State. At a joint press conference with Saeb Erekat, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said “the Egyptian position is very clear, and Egypt does not accept a Palestinian State with provisional borders.” He said that such a proposal was not acceptable to Egypt, Palestine, the Arabs, or the international community. He added that “there is no need to waste time…if it is a question of provisional borders then we cannot begin a dialogue.”
In a new development, US President Barack Obama telephoned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday in order to reassure him of the US commitment to hold any side that undermines trust in the indirect negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis responsible for this. This telephone call came after the Palestinian President called for the US to put pressure on Israeli to stop settlement building in eastern Jerusalem.
The White House issued a statement on the nature of the call that took place between the US President and his Palestinian counterpart. The White House statement said that the President “reiterated his strong support for the establishment of an independent, viable Palestinian state living in peace and security with Israel.” The White House also said that President Obama “congratulated President Abbas on the start of the Israeli – Palestinian proximity talks.” Washington believes these indirect negotiations to be an important step towards the implementation of direct negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis and the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state.
The US administration is hopeful that the indirect negotiations launched by US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell will succeed. These “proximity talks” began after America received guarantees by both sides that they would not undermine trust by taking provocative steps. The Palestinians are demanding that Israel refrain from settlement building in eastern Jerusalem, especially during this period; however Netanyahu has denied making any such commitment to the Americans.
The White House statement on the telephone call between the two leaders also said that “the President and President Abbas discussed the need for both parties to negotiate seriously and in good faith, and to move from proximity talks to direct negotiations as soon as possible in order to reach an agreement on permanent status issues.” The statement also said that Obama “expressed appreciation for President Abbas’s recent outreach to the Israeli people by appearing on Israeli television, and urged that President Abbas do everything that he can to prevent acts of incitement or de-legitimization of Israel. The President confirmed his intentions to hold both sides accountable for actions that undermine trust during the talks.”