JERUSALEM, (AP) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants the U.S. to spell out its views on the borders of a Palestinian state before resuming direct negotiations with Israel, an adviser said Wednesday, raising a condition that Israel is unlikely to accept.
President Barack Obama’s envoy, George Mitchell, has been mediating low-key indirect talks for weeks, but no progress has been reported. Israel and the U.S. believe direct negotiations should resume, but the Palestinians are reluctant.
Talks ended in late 2008 without agreement on an Israeli proposal for a Palestinian state that would comprise Gaza, about 95 percent of the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem, with exchanges of land to make up the difference and a corridor through Israel linking the two territories. Israel also agreed to take in some refugees, but not the millions Palestinians count.
Detailing the offer, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has said publicly on at least two occasions that Abbas turned it down because he was not willing to compromise over Jerusalem. Both sides claim a key holy site in the Old City.
Abbas has insisted that the negotiations must resume with the Israeli offer back on the table, but the current leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has withdrawn it. Netanyahu has agreed to the principle of a Palestinian state but refuses to detail his ideas about key issues like borders before direct negotiations resume.
Abbas is in a precarious political position, ruling only the West Bank after the Islamic militant group Hamas overran Gaza three years ago, while facing Hamas challenges and internal party squabbles in the West Bank. He was forced to cancel local elections set for this month because of the turmoil. His weakness limits his ability to compromise in peace negotiations.
Likewise, Netanyahu heads a hard-line ruling coalition that would not endorse the concessions made by the previous government.
Against that backdrop, Obama sought to reassure both leaders in separate meetings this month.
Abbas said Mitchell outlined Obama’s views about the negotiations last week. Abbas was quoted as saying the U.S. president was vague on what constituted Palestinian territory.
“We expect much pressure and hard days, but we will not go to negotiations like blind people,” Abbas was quoted as telling Fatah leaders in a closed-door meeting Tuesday night.
Abbas’ comments were published Wednesday in a Palestinian daily, and confirmed by his adviser Sabri Saidam, who was present at the meeting.
The potential for violence during the political stalemate was illustrated again Wednesday in Gaza, where two Palestinian militants were killed and seven wounded by Israeli gunfire, Palestinian health official Dr. Moaiya Hassanain said. The military said soldiers fired at suspected militants approaching the border fence with Israel.
While border violence has dropped significantly since Israel’s punishing three-week offensive in Gaza that ended in January 2009, Palestinian militants have fired occasional rockets at neighboring Jewish communities.
That war continued to reverberate Wednesday.
The Israeli military submitted a new report to the United Nations on its Gaza offensive, pledging to take greater precautions to avoid civilian casualties. The report insists the offensive was a necessary and proportionate response to years of Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli towns. About 1,400 Gazans were killed in the war, including hundreds of civilians. Thirteen Israelis were killed.
U.N. investigators wrote last year that they found evidence that both sides committed war crimes. Hamas was cited for indiscriminate rocket fire on Israeli civilians, while Israel was accused of using disproportionate force and intentionally harming civilians. Both sides rejected the charges.
Also Wednesday, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said South Africa’s ambassador returned to Israel on Monday, six weeks after he was withdrawn in protest over a raid by Israeli navy commandos on a Gaza-bound flotilla in which nine activists were killed. The raid provoked harsh international criticism.