Fatah official: We demand clarity on Jerusalem

Azzam Al-Ahmad says proposals regarding ‘greater Jerusalem’ and refugees leave the US secretary ‘in a vicious circle’

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Azzam Al-Ahmad (photo credit: AP/Amr Nabil/File)
Azzam Al-Ahmad (photo credit: AP/Amr Nabil/File)

US Secretary of State John Kerry has proposed designating “greater Jerusalem” as the capital of both Israel and the Palestinian state, a Fatah official reported on Sunday, claiming that Kerry is stuck in “a vicious circle” and will likely achieve no progress in his current visit to the region.

Azzam Al-Ahmad, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee and its representative to talks with Hamas, told the Jordanian daily Al-Ghad that Kerry was “elusive” when speaking of the exclusion of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.

“An ambiguous term such as ‘greater Jerusalem’ in [Kerry’s] proposal could reach the Dead Sea, and could [equally] not include [the Palestinian village of] Abu Dis,” Al-Ahmad told the Jordanian daily. “This [ambiguity] destroys all American efforts to reach a peace agreement.”

Palestinian sources have reported “extremely difficult” talks with Kerry over the weekend. According to a report by Agence France Presse, Kerry has exerted immense pressure on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to accept Israel as a Jewish state as part of a framework agreement, a demand Abbas continues to adamantly oppose.

The Palestinian source quoted Kerry as saying that the demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is not only an Israeli demand, but one shared by the American administration as well.

But Al-Ahmad said that Kerry’s ambiguity on Jerusalem and the settlements leave little chance for the Palestinian side to accept his offers.

“Kerry is stuck in a vicious circle. If he continues to propose what he has [so far], he will achieve nothing,” Al-Ahmad said.

Kerry, for his part, acknowledged the difficulties experienced by both sides, but insisted that progress has been achieved.

“Mistrust obviously exists at a very high level. So we have to work through that and around that and over that,” he said. The secretary of state was traveling to Jordan and Saudi Arabia on Sunday before returning to Israel Sunday evening to continue talks.

With regards to the Jordan Valley, Al-Ahmad said the Palestinians rejected any Israeli presence under a final status agreement, but agreed to international forces patrolling the border, including, for example, a joint Jordanian-American contingent. He added that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert had already agreed to forgo the Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley during talks with Abbas. (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists on an ongoing IDF presence to secure the eastern border.)

Palestinian officials continued to voice their opposition to provisional or framework agreements as an alternative to the original nine-month timetable agreed upon with the US, which ends in April.

On Saturday, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Kerry was not engaged in working on a “transitional agreement” but rather was discussing “all core issues.”

Al-Ahmad articulated the Palestinian position differently.

“The framework agreement is being used to blackmail the Palestinians and reshuffle the cards, or lengthen the negotiation period beyond nine months,” he said.

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