JERUSALEM (AP) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for secret negotiations with Israel and predicted that such talks could produce a peace agreement within a year, according to an interview published in the Israeli Haaretz daily Friday.
Abbas said that despite the pending formation of a Palestinian government led by Hamas, which calls for the destruction of Israel, there is still a strong chance for a peace deal. Abbas said peace talks would be conducted by the Palestine Liberation Organization, an umbrella for Palestinian factions that does not include Hamas.
“We are in a historic period in which we must decide whether we will move toward peace and a better future for our children. I can promise you that you have a partner for this peace,” Abbas told the newspaper.
Since Hamas won Jan. 25 Palestinian parliamentary elections, Israel has shunned the Palestinian Authority, demanding that the Islamic militant group renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. Hamas has refused the demands.
In the run-up to Israel’s elections next Tuesday, acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that he intended to pull out of many of Israel’s West Bank settlements, strengthen its control over the major settlement blocs and set Israel’s final borders by 2010.
Olmert said he preferred to achieve this through negotiations, but will do it unilaterally if that fails. Abbas told Haaretz that Olmert’s unilateral plan might bring a temporary truce, “but it will not bring you peace.”
Abbas said that he proposed to former Prime Minister Shimon Peres and to the Americans to open secret, back channel discussions to resolve the conflict. “I am convinced that within less than a year we will be able to sign an agreement,” he said.