Abbas to seek Obama backing for direct talks with Israel


PALESTINIAN president Mahmoud Abbas is due to meet US president Barack Obama at the White House today to discuss efforts to relaunch direct negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.

Mr Abbas flew to Washington from Ankara, where he offered Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan condolences for the nine Turkish nationals killed last week during Israel’s commando raid on a six-ship aid convoy attempting to break the siege of Gaza.

Mr Abbas accused Israel of “state terrorism”, and asked how long would Palestinians have to bear Israeli land confiscations, expulsions from their homes, and the siege of Gaza.

Although the State Department characterised as “constructive and substantive” the latest round of proximity talks conducted by US envoy George Mitchell, Mr Abbas called the exchanges difficult, and said there were lots of obstacles to progress.

Due to Israel’s military action against the flotilla, he has come under increasing pressure from the Palestinian public, elements in his Fatah movement, and Hamas to call off the talks. However, for Mr Abbas as well as for Mr Obama and Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, further talks are essential.

Mahdi Abdel Hadi, head of a Palestinian think tank based in East Jerusalem, said the US cannot afford rejection of the peace process by Palestinians and Arabs who could abrogate the moribund 1993 Oslo accords or withdraw the 2002 Arab land-for-peace plan.

Israel, Dr Abdel Hadi observed, understands the need to keep these agreements in play. They provide recognition and security, and protect US regional interests.

The US, he stated, “is determined to keep Fatah in power”. Over the past five years Washington has build up the capacity of Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces, and bankrolled the authority, Dr Abdel Hadi said.

“As long as Mitchell comes, Israel will observe a partial freeze in construction in Jerusalem and the [West Bank] settlements. This keeps the idea of withdrawal to the 1967 border alive,” he said, while putting pressure on Israeli public opinion to accept this proposition, and challenging Israel’s right-wing government.

Dr Abdel Hadi said the US policy seemed to be: “If we can’t change Israel’s stance, the Israeli government will have to change,” by dropping right-wingers and bringing in centrists.

While it is engaged in negotiations with the PA, the US hopes Israel will not attack Hizbullah in Lebanon, Syria or Iran.

“Israel cannot have war and work for peace at the same time,” Dr Abdel Hadi remarked.

Finally, if, as expected, proximity talks fail, the PA is counting on the US to convene an international conference which will seek to impose a solution based on the framework for a deal reached in negotiations during the Clinton administration and between Mr Abbas and former Israeli premier Ehud Olmert. A solution, Dr Abdel Hadi stated, would involve land swaps and the deployment of Nato forces.

However, he reflected the view of most Palestinians when he said the stated goal of the talks, emergence of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, is no longer possible due to the “situation on the ground” created by the half million settlers planted in the territories Israel conquered in 1967.

“Today we have an apartheid system,” he said. “[The US, Israel and the PA] are trying to manage it so it does not become permanent.” Palestinians were living in a “prison where they cannot do anything without Israel’s permission”. They have “grey leaders who are open to any suggestion” to stay in power, and there is the danger that a radical “Taliban culture” could develop. The only way this could be averted was to end the occupation, he said.