If offered a just agreement, the Palestinian Authority would agree to a final end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and “will not demand in the future to return to Jaffa, Acre or Haifa,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told a group of left-wing MKs who visited his Ramallah office on Thursday.
The statement appeared to signal a disavowal of the long-held Palestinian demand for a right of return to Israel for refugees of the 1948 war and their descendants. Abbas expressed similar sentiments in an interview with Channel 2 in November. He later played down those comments.
“The Palestinian people are ready for and want peace,” Abbas told the delegation of MKs from Meretz on Thursday.
“You have a commitment from the Palestinian people, and also from the leadership, that if we are offered a just agreement, we will sign a peace deal that will put an end to the conflict and to future demands from the Palestinian side,” Abbas said, according to an account of the meeting posted on the Meretz website.
“We will not demand in the future to return to Jaffa, Acre or Haifa. Peace with Israel will be final and binding,” he was quoted as saying.
The comments mark the first time Abbas spoke publicly about peace talks since they were relaunched two weeks ago.
According to the Meretz delegation’s account, Abbas said that “over 70 percent of Palestinians support peace with Israel.”
A June poll by Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, found that some 59% of Palestinians were “supportive of the peace process” in general terms, but 58% said the two-state solution is no longer practical due to Jewish settlement expansion and 69% said the chances for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the next five years are slim or non-existent.
Abbas also said, according to the Meretz account, that it was possible to overcome the obstacles on the path to peace and arrive at a solution within six months, but that he would not agree to a temporary solution with temporary borders. He would only agree to a peace deal that would see the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel, he said.
Abbas added that he did not understand why the peace talks were not occurring more frequently.
“I asked to hold talks every day or two, but the Israelis declined. Right now the talks are being held once every 10 days, which slows down the pace at which we are advancing.”
The Palestinian leader wondered why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had yet to meet with him, telling the Meretz MKs that he had notified Netanyahu several times of his willingness to meet face-to-face but did not receive an affirmative answer.
Netanyahu made a similar comment in late June, telling the Washington Post that “if [US] Secretary [of State John] Kerry, whose efforts we support, were to pitch a tent halfway between [Jerusalem] and Ramallah — that’s 15 minutes away driving time — I’m in it, I’m in the tent. And I’m committed to stay in the tent and negotiate for as long as it takes to work out a solution of peace and security between us and the Palestinians.”
Speaking about the unrest in the region, Abbas told the MKs that the Palestinian public was fearful of developments, including the strengthening in many countries of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement active in several Arab countries — particularly Egypt — which includes among its affiliates the Palestinian group Hamas, the main challenger to Abbas’s Fatah group.
A diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the only solution to those fears among Palestinians, Abbas said.
The visit to the Palestinian Authority president’s headquarters in the Muqata’a compound in Ramallah appears to be part of a strategy of outreach to Israeli political parties and civil society as peace talks get underway.
On Wednesday, Abbas issued a formal invitation to MK Hilik Bar (Labor) to visit the Muqata’a together with the Knesset Caucus to Resolve the Arab-Israeli Conflict, which Bar founded and leads.
Last month, the caucus played host to the Palestinian Authority’s Civil Dialogue Committee, a group of officials and former diplomats appointed by Abbas to engage with Israeli civil society. The MKs and Palestinian officials met in the Knesset for a gathering attended by 33 MKs, or one-fourth of the Knesset. It marked the first time the Palestinian flag was flown alongside the Israeli flag in Israel’s parliament.
Left-wing parties, including Labor and Meretz, have promised to support the current right-wing government in the peace talks.
“Meretz opposes the Netanyahu government,” Meretz chair MK Zehava Gal-on said Thursday at the Ramallah meeting, “but it won’t be an opposition to peace.”
There is a 70-member majority in the 120-member Knesset “of MKs who support the diplomatic process and will support the peace agreement,” she said.