Palestinian Authority Chairman, Mahmoud Abbas stated Monday, April 26 that he is willing to go back to negotiations with Israel, without pre-conditions, if the Arab League's monitoring committee session on May 1 approves. "Try me," he said in an exclusive interview with Israel Channel 2 TV's Ehud Yaari.
debkafile notes that Abbas appears to have changed direction after 15 months of stalling against US efforts to restart the talks on one pretext or another. The US Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, who left the Middle East Friday, April 23, announced he was returning to the region to continue his mission next Tuesday, May 4, which is three days after the Arab League meeting.
In answer to a question, Abbas said he had nothing against Binyamin Netanyahu and is ready to talk to him. He is Israel's elected leader, said Abbas, and has a parliamentary majority.
He stressed that certain issues had been agreed and settled in talks with Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, then foreign minister. One of those issues was security in the areas to be handed over to the Palestinian state. It had been agreed that NATO personnel under US command would be deployed in the West Bank and along the Jordan River, he said.
Settlement blocs and territory swaps would be subject to negotiation between the Palestinians and Israel, said Abbas, and a solution could also be found for the Palestinian refugee problem.
Asked about Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayad's pledge to establish a Palestinian state by 2011, Abbas said clearly: "We are against unilateral steps."
Regarding the future of the Gaza Strip, he said there had been good progress in the quest for reconciliation between his Fatah movement and Hamas.
Last Friday, the Palestinian leader speaking to his Fatah party appealed to President Barack Obama to "Impose a solution" of the Middle East conflict. He rejected out of hand a new Israeli proposal of temporary borders for a Palestinian state on 60 percent of the West Bank.
In the meantime, as debkafile reported, the Obama administration met Israel halfway on its demand for a construction freeze in East Jerusalem, accepting that Israel would quietly suspend building licencses and other permits for just four weeks, giving Mitchell a chance to persuade Abbas to joint US-moderated talks with Israel.