Abbas: I’m still waiting for Netanyahu to answer my questions
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Abbas: I’m still waiting for Netanyahu to answer my questions

At conference in Istanbul, PA president calls on international community to pressure Israel to stop expanding settlements

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

PM Mahmoud Abbas speaks at the opening plenary of the World Economic Forum on the Middle East, North Africa and Eurasia in Istanbul, June 5,  2012.  (photo credit: CC-BY-SA World Economic Forum/ Norbert Schiller, Flickr)
PM Mahmoud Abbas speaks at the opening plenary of the World Economic Forum on the Middle East, North Africa and Eurasia in Istanbul, June 5, 2012. (photo credit: CC-BY-SA World Economic Forum/ Norbert Schiller, Flickr)

ISTANBUL — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday said he was still waiting for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to respond to a letter he had sent the prime minister in April in a bid to restart peace talks.

After Abbas’s address to the opening session of the World Economic Forum in Istanbul, an Israeli journalist asked him when peace negotiations would resume.

“If he answers my letter,” Abbas responded. “I have two questions, two simple questions. Then we will continue to talk.”

Asked what answers he expected, Abbas said, as he was whisked away by his security detail: “Two answers. Two simple answers.”

In April 17, a Palestinian delegation handed Netanyahu a letter from Abbas, in which he demanded that Israel accept the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and cease all building over the Green Line.

“I expect your understanding that settlement building is eroding the Palestinian trust in your commitment to reconciliation and the idea of the two-state solution,” Abbas wrote, according to a draft of the letter obtained by The Times of Israel. “The logic is simple: If you support the establishment of a Palestinian state, why do you build on its territory?”

Israel responded to the letter, but according to political sources in Jerusalem the response contained no groundbreaking announcements likely to advance the stalled peace process. Negotiations have been on hold since.

In Istanbul, Abbas again called upon Israel to make efforts to renew peace negotiations and threatened that time for the achievement of a two-state solution is running out.

“We already made a major sacrifice when we agreed to have a state on less than a quarter of historical Palestine. This opportunity might not stay on the table for long because the region is currently in turmoil,” he said. “We are neither at war nor are we at peace — a state that could go on for decades. Now is not the time to build walls and new settlements,” he said.

He called upon the international community, and especially the United States, to pressure Israel to step expanding settlements in the West Bank.

Abbas defended his application last year for statehood at the United Nations, saying it in no way contradicts his stance that a final-status issued needs to be negotiated with Israel. Palestine’s membership was vetoed by the Security Council but Abbas has since suggested turning to the UN’s General Assembly, which could grant him the status of a nonmember state. Abbas did not elaborate on whether he plans to follow that route but said that 133 countries already recognize Palestine.

“Almost the whole world recognizes Palestine besides those whom God may forgive,” he said with a smile, adding laughingly: “Let’s not mention names.”

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