Barack Obama was presented Monday with a “very ugly map” depicting Israeli settlement construction throughout the West Bank, the chief Palestinian negotiator said, adding that the meeting between the US president and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was “difficult” yet “candid.”
According to Saeb Erekat, over 10,000 housing units were built on Palestinian-owned territory since the US-brokered peace talks commenced last year, the Guardian reported.
“We put a map to president Obama, showed him the extent of what happened since we began [negotiations] in July,” Erekat said during a speech at the Wilson Center think-tank in Washington Tuesday, displaying what was apparently Abbas’s map.
“It is a very ugly map,” he said. “This was supposed to be land of the Palestinian state.”
Erekat went on to say that no concrete US peace proposal had been presented to Abbas during his meeting with Obama, despite the fact that US Secretary of State John Kerry has been working on formulating a “framework” for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
“Contrary to what people expected, that we will come out of this meeting with an official American proposal document, this has not happened,” he said.
“To submit an official document we need more discussion,” Erekat added.
The chief negotiator also criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
“Israel’s name is the State of Israel. That’s how they call themselves,” he said, adding that the Palestinian Authority had already recognized Israel’s right to exist.
Last week, Kerry told American lawmakers that Israel’s “Jewish state” demand from the Palestinians was a “mistake.”
“We know that’s an issue that the Israelis have spoken about, but we will let those issues remain discussed behind closed doors,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday shortly after Abbas met Obama.
During that meeting, Abbas stated that “since 1988 and into 1993, we have been extending our hands to our Israeli neighbors so that we can reach a fair and lasting peace to this problem. Since 1988, we have recognized international legitimacy resolutions and this was a very courageous step on the part of the Palestinian leadership. And in 1993, we recognized the State of Israel.”
Abbas said that from the Palestinian perspective, “we don’t have any time to waste. Time is not on our side.”
He discussed March 29 as the target date for the final release of Palestinian prisoners to which Israel committed as part of the agreement for a nine-month period of talks. That period, which began in July, is set to expire in April. Abbas said that the release of prisoners “will give a very solid impression about the seriousness of the Israelis on the peace process.”
Israeli ministers said last week that they would have difficulty approving the release if an agreement was not reached to extend the peace talks.
Israel committed to the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners when talks were launched in July. It has so far released 78 of those in three phases, with Palestinians demanding that the fourth — scheduled for later this month — also include Arab Israelis, something Israel has rejected.
A major effort is underway in Washington to make sure that both sides remain at the negotiating table after the conclusion of the nine-month period, and Abbas’s statement indicated that the release would be a critical factor in a decision to continue talks.
Rebecca Shimoni Stoil, AP and AFP contributed to this report.