Abbas threatens ‘all options open’ if US-led diplomatic bid fails

Amid ongoing confusion about terms for new talks, PA president hails UN’s November upgrade of ‘Palestine’ as greatest achievement in years

PA President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Thursday July 18, 2013 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Thursday July 18, 2013 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned in comments published Monday that “all options are open” if there is no substantive progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

The comments, Abbas’s first since US Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Friday that peace talks would resume after a hiatus of almost three years, may be an attempt to exert pressure on the US and Israel to meet Palestinian demands on the terms of formal negotiations.

Kerry said Israeli and Palestinian representatives would meet in Washington within days to resume the negotiations. “We have reached an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming negotiations,” he said. But Abbas’s two spokespeople contradicted the secretary on Sunday, saying in separate interviews that the path to resumed negotiations had not yet been cleared, and that the imminent meetings in Washington were aimed only at seeking to finalize the terms for the new negotiations.

Israel’s leaders, by contrast, have indicated that they hold to Kerry’s declaration, and are anticipating resumed negotiations without preconditions.

In his comments, Abbas did not name his other options, but referred to last year’s upgrade of the Palestinian status at the UN. At the time, the General Assembly accepted Palestine as a nonmember observer state, in a largely symbolic gesture that was vehemently opposed by Israel and the US but overwhelmingly endorsed by the Assembly.

Palestinian officials have said that in the absence of negotiations with Israel, they would seek further UN recognition, including membership in UN agencies and possible redress against Israeli policies at the International Criminal Court.

Israel fears that the Palestinian could make further gains in international bodies and use those positions to act against the Jewish state.

In his interview with Al Ra’i, Jordan’s largest pro-government daily, Abbas portrayed last year’s UN recognition as “the most important achievement for the Palestinian state in the past years.”

“If there is no agreement to push peace forward, all options are open,” Abbas added, referring to a possible collapse of Kerry’s mission.

The Jordanian newspaper spoke to Abbas on Friday and did not explain why it only published his comments Monday.

Despite Kerry’s upbeat announcement last week, it remains unclear if preliminary Israeli-Palestinian meetings in Washington will lead to a resumption of actual negotiations on the terms of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh said Sunday night that the path to formal negotiations with Israel is still blocked.

The Washington talks are meant to “overcome the obstacles that still stand in the way of launching negotiations,” he said.

Earlier on Sunday, senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Abed Rabbo, Abbas’s second authorized spokesman, told Palestinian radio that the PA leadership was currently engaged in dialogue with the American administration, and would only announce the resumption of negotiations depending on the outcome of those talks.

He said a number of issues were still pending for talks between Israelis and Palestinians in Washington later in the week, during which a framework for negotiations would be created, he added.

Gaps remain on three issues Palestinians say need to be settled before talks can begin — the baseline for border talks, the extent of a possible Israeli settlement slowdown and a timetable for releasing long-detained Palestinian prisoners.

Kerry’s upbeat statement Friday indicated these preconditions had been resolved. The Palestinians’ comments since then indicate that they have not.

Israel has been insisting that peace talks resume without preconditions and that all issues be resolved through dialogue. Israeli ministers said Saturday that the government had held firm to its insistence on there being no preconditions for resuming the negotiations, while indicating Abbas had given ground. According to the ministers, the talks would resume without Israel agreeing to a settlement freeze, without Israel agreeing to negotiations for a Palestinian state on the basis of the pre-1967 lines, and without there first being a release of longtime Palestinian prisoners. Still, Israel would release Palestinian prisoners, with Israeli blood on their hands — up to 350, according to some sources — in phases as the talks continued, they said.

Unnamed American sources quoted in the Israeli media on Monday, however, indicated that the talks would indeed resume shortly — “no later than August 4,” according to a report in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily. At the start of the first session, this report said, Kerry would read out his proposal “for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and specify the pre-67 lines as the basis for negotiation on Palestinian statehood. Kerry, it said, would also note that land swaps based on the pre-67 lines would be on a one-for-one ratio. In other words, any adjustment to the pre-67 lines enabling Israel to expand sovereignty into the West Bank would be offset by an equivalent-sized Israeli territorial concession to the Palestinians from Israeli sovereign territory.

Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator, said talks are “complex” but vital.

“There is an opportunity not just to hold a dialogue with the Palestinians in order to end the conflict but a chance to form an alliance with the moderates in the region … in order to act against the extremists,” Livni told members of her Labor Party on Monday.

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