RAMALLAH — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sounded an optimistic note Monday in a Ramallah meeting with left-leaning MKs about the ongoing peace talks.
“The period of nine months [set aside for the current talks] is enough to reach an agreement,” Abbas said, “All the issues were discussed in the past, whether at Camp David, Taba, or with [former PM Ehud] Olmert.”
He said the Palestinian side saw the talks as critical for peace.
“There are those who say we went to the UN [to obtain nonmember status last year] as a replacement for negotiations, but that’s wrong. We know the conflict between us will only be resolved in negotiations,” Abbas said.
He emphasized that security cooperation with Israel was at an all-time high. “You all know, and the world knows, that cooperation on all issues, on a day-to-day basis, is at 100%. The reason is simple: we want a completely normal atmosphere between Israelis and Palestine.”
Abbas was speaking to a group of 12 MKs, 11 from Labor and one from Hatnua, who were in Ramallah on a visit of the Knesset Caucus to Resolve the Arab-Israeli Conflict headed by MK Hilik Bar (Labor).
The caucus’s previous meeting, which took place in the Knesset in late July, was joined by Palestinian Authority representatives and marked the first time the Palestinian flag was raised in Israel’s parliament. No Israeli flag was in evidence, however, during Monday’s Ramallah meeting.
The visit was met with criticism from hawkish MKs who suggested it was inappropriate in light of a recent spate of attacks that left a nine-year-old girl severely wounded in Psagot and two soldiers dead.
At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) called on Bar to cancel the Ramallah visit “in light of recent events.” Deputy ministers Tzipi Hotovely and Ze’ev Elkin also called on Bar to cancel the visit.
Bar refused. “Every single round of negotiations throughout this peace process, every attempt to bring peace, brought out terrorists and inciters and extremists who do their best to harm negotiations and peace. These people thrive on the conflict and survive through its continuation. That’s why the leaders have to be responsible and mature and try to overcome these setbacks and do everything to end this bloody conflict,” he said.
Bar used the visit to Ramallah to invite Abbas to speak to Israelis directly in order to help build bridges between the two societies. An aide to Abbas later said the PA leader did not anticipate traveling to Israel to meet Israelis groups, but would be pleased to host them in Ramallah.
Abbas spoke about the recent flareup in West Bank violence, referencing a recent attack in Psagot, a settlement near Ramallah.
“Two days ago, a girl was hurt in Psagot. It is said she was hurt by either a bullet or with a knife. An [Israeli] soldier was killed last week too, as were four Palestinians in Qalandiya. We are in principle against all attacks on civilians,” he added. “We want peace, not blood. We want flowers, not blood between us.”
The Israeli delegation was met in Ramallah by a group of senior Palestinian officials, including Abbas’s adviser Yasser Abed Rabo, presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh, political adviser Nimr Hammad, and aide Mohammed Madani.