Even as talks for a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace got off to a cautious start in Washington Monday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters in Egypt that no Israelis would be allowed to remain in a future Palestinian state.
“In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands,” Abbas said following a meeting with interim Egyptian President Adly Mansour in Cairo.
Abbas was in Cairo to meet with Egyptian officials and discuss relations between the Palestinian Authority and Cairo as well as to negotiate a relaxing of border restrictions between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian leader also reiterated that he wants a total freeze on settlement construction, and that he will not agree to any compromise solution that would halt projects in smaller outlying Jewish communities in the West Bank while allowing continued building in the larger settlement blocs
“There was a request, ‘We’ll only build here, what do you think?’ If I agreed, I would legitimize all the rest (of the settlements). I said no. I said out loud and in writing that, to us, settlements in their entirety are illegitimate,” said Abbas.
In the past, Israeli governments have toyed with a proposal first put forward by former prime minister Ariel Sharon that would see Israel maintain control of some 14% of the West Bank that is home to the larger settlement communities. Earlier this month Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin estimated that, if the Palestinians agreed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would go for such a deal. Other past proposals envisioned a land-swap in which the Palestinians would gain territory from Israel to make up for settlement areas that would become a permanent part of the Jewish State.
Netanyahu, who has expressed support in principle for a Palestinian state, has not specified how much West Bank territory he would be prepared to relinquish in negotiations.
Abbas said that he may be open to the idea of small adjustments in the 1967 border that the Palestinians say is the otherwise nonnegotiable boundary of a future Palestinian state.
“East Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Palestine … if there were and must be some kind of small exchange (of land) equal in size and value, we are ready to discuss this — no more, no less,” he said.
Abbas also raised the possibility of establishing a multi-national force to act as peacekeepers in the future state for the benefit of both sides.
“An international, multinational presence like in Sinai, Lebanon and Syria — we are with that,” he said and noted that he still supported a proposal that he said was discussed with former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert that NATO forces be deployed to keep the peace.
Formal talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were scheduled to begin on Tuesday morning in Washington after the teams met for an informal dinner on Monday night.
Talks are set to resume for approximately three hours with the last 45 minutes devoted to trilateral negotiations between US Secretary of State John Kerry, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, after which they will deliver a joint press briefing.