Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat- Palestinian Presidency Spokesman Nabil Abu-Rudaynah has affirmed that the negotiations between President Mahmud Abbas (Abu-Mazin) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not deal with the core issues of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Their meeting was “to explore the positions.” He added that all the core issues would be raised during the coming two weeks with a view to defining the position of each side before they start the negotiations. This would be a complex and critical process. The Palestinian and Israeli sides would be engaged in a sensitive process to establish a framework for the negotiations in the coming months hoping to reach an agreement within 12 months. Abu-Mazin participated in the first round of negotiations with the Israelis 20 months ago in response to an invitation by US President Barack Obama. Hours before the departure of the Palestinian delegation from Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat met with Abu-Rudaynah to learn what took place in the meetings in Washington on Wednesday and Thursday, particularly in the bilateral meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu at the US State Department.
The text of the interview follows:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you satisfied with the outcome of the first round of negotiations in Washington?
[Abu-Rudaynah] It is just the beginning, and it is not possible to judge the results yet. It is not a matter of being optimistic or pessimistic. There is no doubt that there is a chance. Although there is nothing definite, the Palestinian side must not waste this chance if it were serious and real.
The meetings in the White House reflected a persistent American effort manifested in the personal attention of US President Barack Obama to the issue. The important presence of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah II is also an important message to the Israelis, the Americans, and the international community that there is a united Palestinian-Arab position committed to achieving genuine peace based on the principles of international legitimacy.
A series of meetings are supposed to take place, some of them on the summit level and some on the level of the negotiators. We cannot judge their outcome yet. There is no doubt that the next four weeks would be an opportunity to test the Israeli intentions. It would also be an opportunity to test the credibility of the US Administration and its ability to manage a successful peace process. Despite all the persistent efforts, the Palestinian side has some doubts about the Israeli position. The illegitimate settlement activity, the Israeli measures, and the Gaza blockade all undoubtedly represent real obstacles for reaching an agreement. Nevertheless, we will wage this political battle backed by the Palestinian and Arab peoples in an attempt to end the occupation. The main goal of any negotiations is the establishment of a Palestinian state and ending the 1967 occupation, foremost the occupation of East Jerusalem. The battle will not be easy. This political battle will be difficult, complicated, and fierce. The Palestinian leadership, led by President Abu-Mazin, has not yielded in Washington on any Palestinian-Arab constant and will never yield on any pan-Arab constant whether in Washington or any other place. The PLO has led this march since Madrid, Camp David, and Annapolis. All the negotiations that took place focused on restoring the Palestinian rights. Had we agreed to give up any right, matters would have changed long time ago.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It was important to raise several issues in the negotiations that took place, such as the continuation of Israeli settlement activity.
[Abu-Rudaynah] As I told you, this was just a beginning–a beginning represented by speeches and procedures. Apart from the formal speeches, it was an attempt to draw up a timetable for the negotiations. An important two-hour meeting took place between President Abu-Mazin and Netanyahu during which Abu-Mazin reviewed all the final status issues and the Palestinian position. He reviewed the outcome of the negotiations that took place with the previous Israeli government of Ehud Olmert. The president was clear that we want serious and accelerated negotiations. He said that the settlement-building activity was illegitimate and that we want a fully sovereign state within the borders of 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital. We are embarking on these negotiations within this context, armed with the statement of the Quartet Committee, the recommendations of the Arab follow-up committee, the decisions of the Palestinian leadership, and the firm Arab position. He made it clear to Netanyahu that these are the outlines on whose basis we are entering the negotiations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did President Abbas feel that Netanyahu understood these bases and sincerely wanted to address them?
[Abu-Rudaynah] This was not a negotiating session. It was a meeting to explore the positions. President Abu-Mazin outlined his position and so did Netanyahu. Real negotiations will start when each issue is raised for discussion, and this will need at least one or two weeks.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Netanyahu has again mentioned “the Jewish character of Israel” in his speeches in Washington. What is your position on this?
[Abu-Rudaynah] Again, not all issues were raised in the bilateral meeting. Nothing of this sort was discussed. The meeting was to explore the positions of the two sides. We did not discuss what the media and the press have talked about. When we sit at the table of negotiations, we will talk about them. President Abu-Mazin has repeatedly defined the Palestinian position by saying that there is a letter of mutual recognition between the PLO and the Israeli Government. We are not interested in what Israel calls itself. We are only interested in the letter of mutual recognition between the PA and the Israeli Government.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Regarding the next direct negotiations session, reports have said that it would be held in Egypt, but so far, the venue has not been announced. Why is that?
[Abu-Rudaynah] In principle, we will meet within two weeks. So far, we have not been officially informed about the place. We have no objection to the place or the time. What matters are the substance and the issues that the negotiators raise at the table. We will not object to the venue, whether in Egypt or any other place. What matters to us is for serious negotiations to start in which we can discuss all the final status issues without evasion to achieve quick results.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Special Middle East Peace Envoy George Mitchell will participate in the meetings on 14 and 15 September. Will there be continuous American participation in all the meetings?
[Abu-Rudaynah] The US secretary of state will attend the upcoming meeting. There is no doubt that the American envoy will be continuously active. In President Obama’s recent message to President Abu-Mazin, which we regard as encouraging, he said that the United States would play an active and effective role and will intervene at the appropriate time to bridge the gap between the two sides. As for the mechanism and how this will be done, this will be discussed in upcoming meetings whose venue has not been decided yet.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you afraid that the coming period will witness operations or attacks by Hamas or other sides to obstruct the negotiations?
[Abu-Rudaynah] We are entering the negotiations to end the occupation, and all are asked to strengthen the hand of the Palestinian negotiator instead of weakening it. There is no doubt that such actions would benefit Israel. Israel was happy with what happened (the attack on settlers in Hebron). Despite the victims, Israel has always used the excuse that it cannot withdraw without obtaining security. We do not want to give Israel any excuse to obstruct the negotiations. We ask the Palestinians and the Arabs to support the Palestinian negotiator. We will safeguard the national constants. We will not give up Jerusalem or the Palestinian lands occupied since 1967. Therefore, we ask everyone to shoulder their responsibility. Instead of obstructing the removal of the occupation, they should contribute to the removal of the occupation by strengthening the hand of the Palestinian negotiator and sending a message in this respect, not only to Israel, but also to the international community that the Palestinian people are united in their effort to end the occupation, particularly the occupation of Jerusalem. As for those who want to impede the success of any attempt to end the occupation, their actions would not benefit the Palestinian cause, but would give Israel an excuse to maintain the occupation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What happens with regard to the Syrian and Lebanese tracks? Is it possible to launch Syrian-Israeli and Lebanese-Israeli negotiations to back the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations?
[Abu-Rudaynah] I assure you that in every meeting with it, President Abu-Mazin has tried to encourage the US Administration to establish peace in the entire region. Activating the Syrian track is a Palestinian interest and ending the disagreement with regard to the remainder of the Lebanese territory is a Palestinian interest. President Abu-Mazin has always demanded this. Peace must be comprehensive to be viable and lasting. The Palestinians have repeatedly told the Americans that a solution on the Syrian and Lebanese tracks would be in the interest of the Palestinian cause. This would strengthen the Palestinian position and bring the moment of achieving comprehensive and just peace in the region closer.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] A period of 12 months has been set for reaching an agreement on all the final status issues. Has a period been set for the implementation of an agreement?
[Abu-Rudaynah] We have the Sinai experience as a model. An agreement was reached in Camp David on Israeli withdrawal from Sinai and a period of 36 months was set for implementation. We will be flexible. First, an agreement and then implementation can take place gradually for a short period. All depends on the success of the negotiations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that the establishment of a Palestinian state would be declared within 12 months and that implementation of the other agreements would follow?
[Abu-Rudaynah] There is no doubt that all this will be the subject of negotiations. Our goal is to reach an agreement quickly to establish a Palestinian state and achieve world recognition of this state. There is no doubt that recognition exists. What we need is manifestation of this recognition on the ground. All we want is continuous Arab support, as is happening now. All we want is Israeli seriousness and international support, led by the support of the International Quartet Committee and the US Administration, to bridge the gap to speed up the establishment of this state. We want this support to reach an agreement to end violence and instability in our region. The solution of the Palestinian problem would lead to the solution of all the problems in the region. If the Palestinian problem were not solved, instability would persist in the entire region. We warn everyone that failure to help in and contribute to the solution of the Palestinian problem would maintain tension in the region and reflect negatively on everyone. Many countries would undoubtedly be affected if the Palestinian problem were not solved.