CAIRO (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas laid out his vision yesterday for the final status of Israeli-Palestinian relations ahead of peace talks due to resume in Washington for the first time in nearly three years.
Abbas said that no Israeli settlers or border forces could remain in a future Palestinian state and that Palestinians deem illegal all Jewish settlement building within the land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.
The forceful statements appeared to challenge mediator US Secretary of State John Kerry’s hopes that the terms of the talks, scheduled to begin last night over dinner, be kept secret.
“In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands,” Abbas said in a briefing to mostly Egyptian journalists.
“An international, multinational presence like in Sinai, Lebanon and Syria – we are with that,” he said, referring to United Nations peacekeeping operations in those places.
He was in Cairo to meet with Egypt’s interim president, Adli Mansour, nearly a month after the country’s armed forces ousted his elected predecessor, Mohamed Mursi. He also discussed with senior Egyptian intelligence figures relations between the two governments and the easing of movement of goods and people between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
Israel has previously said it wants to maintain a military presence in the occupied West Bank at the border with Jordan to prevent any influx of weapons that could be used against it.
But Abbas said he stood by understandings he said he reached with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, predecessor to more right-wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu, that NATO forces could deploy there “as a security guarantee to us and them.”
The United States is seeking to broker an agreement on a two-state solution in which Israel would exist peacefully alongside a new Palestinian state created in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, lands occupied by the Israelis since a 1967 war.
The talks will be conducted by senior aides to Netanyahu – Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho – and to Abbas – represented by Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Ishtyeh.
On the future of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and the status of Jerusalem – among the most contentious issues facing the two sides – Abbas signalled no softening of his stance.
“We’ve already made all the necessary concessions,” he said.
“East Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Palestine … if there were and must be some kind of small exchange (of land) equal in size and value, we are ready to discuss this – no more, no less,” he said.
Before agreeing to return to talks last week, Palestinian officials were adamant that negotiations should have three main prerequisites: the release of veteran Arab prisoners in Israeli jails, a full settlement freeze and an acknowledgment of the 1967 lines as the basis for future borders.
Israel has publicly granted only one of those demands when its Cabinet on Sunday voted by a slim margin to approve the phased release of 104 Arab prisoners.
Abbas said yesterday that he refused to endorse any half-measure whereby he would let Israel freeze construction in smaller, more far-flung settlements but allow it to build in the larger and more populous “blocs” closer to the 1967 lines.
“There was a request, ‘We’ll only build here, what do you think?’ If I agreed, I would legitimise all the rest (of the settlements). I said no. I said out loud and in writing that, to us, settlements in their entirety are illegitimate.”