ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 146

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Mahmoud Abbas says willing to reform PA so it can rule Gaza, but Israeli policies ‘the problem’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas welcomes Belgium's and Spain's prime ministers (not pictured) to his offices in the West Bank city of Ramallah on November 23, 2023. (Alaa Badarneh/Pool/AFP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas welcomes Belgium's and Spain's prime ministers (not pictured) to his offices in the West Bank city of Ramallah on November 23, 2023. (Alaa Badarneh/Pool/AFP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says he is prepared to reform the PA, but that it must be done in the context of a broader diplomatic initiative aimed at a two-state solution, which Israel opposes.

“The problem is not changing (Palestinian) politicians and forming a new government; the problem is the policies of the Israeli government,” Abbas tells Reuters in a rare interview, when asked about US proposals to revamp the PA so it is better prepared to govern Gaza after the war.

While top US officials visiting Ramallah in recent weeks have avoided discussing specific names with Abbas, Washington has been floating ideas for the PA president to appoint a deputy or hand over significant jurisdiction to a prime minister who would be empowered to enact much-needed reforms, a US official tells The Times of Israel. The official says the US would also like to see Abbas allow for “new blood” to enter his Fatah party, which dominates the PA and PLO.

In the Reuters interview, Abbas again raises his years-old demand for the US to sponsor an international peace conference, akin to the 1991 Madrid summit aimed at advancing Palestinian statehood on the pre-1967 lines.

A senior US official tells the news agency that the idea has been discussed with American allies, but indicates that it is not currently the administration’s main focus.

Abbas reiterates his stance against using violence to advance the Palestinian cause.

“I am with peaceful resistance. I am for negotiations based on an international peace conference and under international auspices that would lead to a solution that will be protected by world powers to establish a sovereign Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem,” he tells Reuters.

He expresses openness to the PA returning to govern Gaza if part of a broader two-state initiative, but says, “When we return, we’ll need resources” because so much of the Strip has been destroyed in the fighting.

Abbas reiterates his position that the US “bears the responsibility of what is happening” in Gaza because it is an “accomplice” of Israel. “America doesn’t force Israel to implement what it says,” he adds.

The PA leader insists that he has wanted to hold elections for years but will not do so without the inclusion of East Jerusalem residents. Ramallah says Israel refuses to allow balloting in the part of the city it annexed in 1980.

Analysts have long speculated that Abbas’s decision not to hold elections has been more motivated by fears of Hamas gains at his expense.

The PA president insists that this is not a factor, telling Reuters, “Whoever wins wins. These will be democratic elections.”

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