Mahmoud Abbas

In this Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2007 file photo, construction workers are seen at the E-1 construction site near the West bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinians will ask the U.N. Security Council to call for an Israeli settlement freeze, President Mahmoud Abbas and his advisers decided Tuesday, as part of an escalating showdown over Israel’s new plans to build thousands more homes on war-won land in and around Jerusalem.

Such construction will destroy any lingering hopes of setting up a Palestinian state, Abbas aides warned.

The plans include 3,000 more homes for Jews in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, as well as preparations for construction of an especially sensitive project near Jerusalem, known as E-1.

Israeli settlement construction lies at the heart of a four-year breakdown in peace talks, and was a major factor behind the Palestinians’ U.N. statehood bid. Since 1967, half a million Israelis have settled in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The Israeli plans for Jerusalem and nearby West Bank areas “are the most dangerous in the history of settlement expansion and apartheid,” Abbas and senior members of the PLO and his Fatah movement said in a statement after a meeting Tuesday evening.

Israel has rebuffed the international criticism, which put it at odds with some of its strongest foreign allies, including Australia.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Tuesday that construction plans would move forward, particularly in east Jerusalem and nearby West Bank settlements. “Israel makes decisions according to its national interests, and not in order to punish, fight or confront,” he said.

Printed on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 as: Palestinians to ask for building freeze

Palestinians hold posters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a rally supporting the Palestinian UN bid for observer state status, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012. The Palestinians will request to upgrade their status on November 29. The status could add weight to Palestinian claims for a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war from Jordan. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The expected U.N. vote Thursday to recognize a state of Palestine will be far more than symbolic — it could give the Palestinians leverage in future border talks with Israel and open the way for possible war crimes charges against the Jewish state.


The Palestinians want the 193-member General Assembly to accept “Palestine,” on the lands Israel occupied in 1967, as a non-member observer state. They anticipate broad support.


For Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the U.N. bid is a last-ditch attempt to stay relevant as a leader after years of failed peace talks with Israel, at a time when his Islamic militant Hamas rivals are gaining ground.

The U.S. and Israel have tried to block the quest for U.N. recognition of Palestine, saying it’s an attempt to bypass Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that broke down four years ago.


The U.S. deputy secretary of state, William Burns, met with Abbas in New York on Wednesday, asking Abbas again to drop the idea and promising that President Barack Obama would re-engage as a mediator in 2013, said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat. Abbas told Burns it was too late.

Israel, meanwhile, appeared to back away from threats of drastic measures if the Palestinians get U.N. approval, with officials suggesting the government would take steps only if the Palestinians use their new status to act against Israel.


The Palestinians say they need U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the lands Israel captured in 1967, to be able to resume negotiations with Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s predecessors accepted the 1967 lines as a basis for border talks, with modifications to be negotiated, including land swaps that would enable Israel to annex some of the largest Jewish settlements. Those talks did not produce a deal, and the sides remained apart on other key issues.


Netanyahu rejects the 1967 lines as starting point while pressing ahead with settlement construction, leaving Abbas little incentive to resume negotiations. Israel goes to elections in January, and polls indicate Netanyahu has a strong chance of winning.

Israel argues that Abbas is trying to dictate the outcome of border talks by going to the U.N., though the recognition request presented to the world body calls for a quick resumption of negotiations on all core issues of the conflict, including borders.


It’s not clear if negotiations could resume even if Obama, freed from the constraints of his re-election campaign, can turn his attention to the Mideast conflict.

Abbas aides have given conflicting accounts of whether Abbas, once armed with global backing for the 1967 borders, will return to negotiations without an Israeli settlement freeze. About half a million Israelis have settled on war-won land.


A construction stop is unlikely, even more so after hawks in Netanyahu’s Likud Party scored major gains in primaries this week.

Israel has said it is willing to resume talks without preconditions.


Government spokesman Mark Regev affirmed the position on Wednesday. Regev said that by going to the U.N., the Palestinians violate “both the spirit and the word of signed agreements to solve issues through negotiations.”

Palestinian officials countered that their historic U.N. bid is meant to salvage a peace deal they say is being sabotaged by Israeli settlement expansion. “It is a last-ditch effort because we believe the two-state solution is in jeopardy as a result of these actions,” Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, told reporters in Ramallah on Wednesday.


The Palestinians expect that at least two-thirds of the 193 member states in the General Assembly will support them on Thursday, including a number of European countries, among them France, Spain, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland.

Those opposed or abstaining include the U.S., Israel, Germany, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia. Ashrawi urged the U.S. to at least abstain, saying that voting no “would be seen as being really pathetic by the rest of the world” and hurt American interests in the Middle East.


German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that “in the long term, this region can only find peace through negotiations to resolve the Middle East conflict,” but she did not say whether her country would abstain or vote against.

“Nothing will really be gained either by unilateral Palestinian initiatives at the United Nations which aim for recognition nor by Israel’s continued building of settlements,” she said.


The vote comes at an important time domestically for Abbas. His Hamas rivals, who control Gaza, have gained popularity after holding their own during an Israeli offensive there earlier this month, aimed at stopping frequent Gaza rocket fire on Israel.

During the Gaza offensive, Abbas was sidelined in his compound in the West Bank, underscoring international concerns that the deadlock in peace efforts is weakening Palestinian pragmatists. Hamas, which seized Gaza from Abbas in 2007, argues that negotiations with Israel are a waste of time, but Hamas leaders have come out in support of the U.N. bid in recent days.


Other than creating leverage in negotiations, U.N. recognition would also allow the Palestinians to seek membership in U.N. agencies and international bodies, for example making them eligible for loans from the International Monetary Fund.

Perhaps most significantly, it could open the door to a new attempt to join the International Criminal Court and seek an investigation into alleged war crimes by Israel in the occupied territories.


Abbas’ self-rule government, the Palestinian Authority, unilaterally recognized the court’s jurisdiction in 2009 and pressed prosecutors to open an investigation into Israel’s previous Gaza offensive. Prosecutors noted at the time that the court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, is only open to states. Israel has not signed the statute and does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction.

Ashrawi on Wednesday avoided explicit threats to take Israel to court, but suggested it’s an option. “If Israel refrains from settlement activities ... there is no immediate pressing need to go,” she said, adding that this could change if “Israel persists in its violations.”

Israel would respond “forcefully” if the Palestinians try to pursue war crimes charges against Israel at the ICC, said an Israeli government official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss policy considerations. If the Palestinians use their upgraded international status “as a tool to confront Israel in the international arena, there will be a response,” he said.


Until then, he said, Israel will be bound by its obligations to the Palestinians under existing peace agreements, but won’t necessarily go beyond them. Earlier there was talk of Israel retaliating by canceling partial peace accords dating back to the 1990s.


In the West Bank, the view of Abbas’ quest for recognition was mixed. Many were bitter, saying they’ve heard too many promises that statehood is near and don’t believe a nod from the U.N. will make a difference.

“Nothing will come of it,” said Arwa Abu Helo, a 23-year-old student in Ramallah. “It’s just a way of misleading the public.”


Yousef Mohammed, a bank teller, said Abbas was trying to “gain the spotlight after Hamas said it won in Gaza.”

Hurriyeh Abdel Karim, 65, said she was willing to give Abbas a chance. “If he succeeds, maybe our life improves,” she said.

___

Associated Press writers Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah and Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed.

AMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — After months of wavering, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas took a decisive step Monday toward reconciliation with the Islamic militant group Hamas, a move Israel promptly warned would close the door to any future peace talks.

In a deal brokered by Qatar, Abbas will head an interim unity government to prepare for general elections in the Palestinian territories in the coming months. The agreement appeared to bring reconciliation — key to any statehood ambitions — within reach for the first time since the two sides set up rival Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza in 2007.

Monday’s deal, signed in the Qatari capital of Doha by Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal, put an end to recent efforts by the international community to revive long-stalled negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on the terms of Palestinian statehood. Abbas appears to have concluded that he has a better chance of repairing relations with Hamas, shunned by the West as a terror group, than reaching an agreement with Israel’s hardline prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu quickly condemned the Doha deal. “It’s either peace with Hamas or peace with Israel. You can’t have them both,” he said in a warning to Abbas, who has enjoyed broad international support.

In moving closer to Hamas, Abbas risks losing some of that backing and hundreds of millions of dollars a year in aid.

Qatar, awash with cash from vast oil and gas reserves, assured the Palestinians that it would help limit any political and financial damages, according to Palestinian officials close to the talks.

Whether the Palestinian Authority loses any of the roughly $1 billion in foreign aid it received each year may partly depend on the interim government’s political platform and Hamas’ willingness to stay in the background.

The new government is to be made up of politically independent experts, according to the Doha agreement. If headed by Abbas, devoid of Hamas members and run according to his political principles, it could try to make a case to be accepted by the West. Abbas aides said they were optimistic they could win international recognition.

The Quartet of international Mideast mediators — the U.S., the U.N., the European Union and Russia — has said it would deal with any Palestinian government that renounces violence, recognizes Israel and supports a negotiated peace deal. Abbas has embraced these principles, while Hamas rejects them.

Top Abbas aides Nabil Shaath and Azzam al-Ahmed said they are confident the new government will be based on the Quartet principles. In any case, they said, the interim government’s focus will be to prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections, not to negotiate with Israel. Such elections won’t be held in May, as initially envisioned, they said, but could take place several months later.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. was seeking more information about what was agreed, and that reconciliation was an internal matter for Palestinians.

“What matters to us are the principles that guide a Palestinian government going forward, in order for them to be able to play a constructive role for peace and building an independent state,” Nuland said.

“Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence,” she said. “It must recognize the state of Israel. And it must accept the previous agreements and obligations between the parties, including the road map. So those are our expectations.”

Nuland declined to say if the Fatah-Hamas arrangement would advance or hurt peace talks with Israel. She also appeared hesitant to address Netanyahu’s warning to Abbas that the Palestinians can have “peace with Hamas or peace with Israel.”

“We maintain that both of these parties ought to stay committed to this process,” Nuland told reporters.

The European Union offered qualified support Monday, saying it considers Palestinian reconciliation and elections as important steps toward Mideast peace. The EU, a major financial backer of Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, “looks forward to continuing its support,” provided the new government meets the Quartet demands, said Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Last year, Abbas and Mashaal struck a reconciliation deal that later became bogged down in disagreement over who would head an interim government. Hamas strongly opposed Abbas’ initial choice of Salam Fayyad, the head of his Palestinian Authority.

Fayyad, an economist who is widely respected in the West, said Monday he welcomed the new deal even though it would cost him a job he has held since 2007.

The breakthrough came after two days of meetings between Abbas and Mashaal, hosted by Qatar’s emir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. After the signing, Abbas said that “we promise our people to implement this agreement as soon as possible.”

Mashaal also said he was serious “about healing the wounds ... to reunite our people on the foundation of a political partnership, in order to devote our effort to resisting the (Israeli) occupation.”

Abbas and Hamas have had bitter ideological differences, with Abbas pursuing a deal with Israel and the violently anti-Israel Hamas dismissing such talks as a waste of time. The rift deepened with Hamas’ 2007 takeover of Gaza, which left Abbas with only the West Bank.

However, some of those differences seem to have narrowed in recent months.

Abbas has lost faith in reaching a deal, at least with Netanyahu. Low-level Israeli-Palestinian border talks last month — an attempt by the international community to revive formal negotiations after more than three years of paralysis — only highlighted the vast gaps.

The Palestinians want the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, with minor border adjustments, for their state. Israel’s outline of a border deal, presented last month, meant it wants to keep east Jerusalem and large chunks of the West Bank, not enough concessions to keep Abbas engaged.

Mashaal, meanwhile, has been prodding Hamas toward a more pragmatic stance that is closer to that of the group’s parent movement, the pan-Arab Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood scored election victories in Egypt and Tunisia in the wake of the pro-democracy protests of the Arab Spring, and has urged Hamas to moderate and reconcile with Abbas.

However, Mashaal represents Hamas in exile and appears to have had differences with the movement’s more hardline leadership in Gaza, which stands to lose influence and jobs in a reconciliation deal. Some of the Gaza leaders have resisted Mashaal’s push for unity and moving closer to the Brotherhood, Hamas officials have said privately.

It remains unclear how much resistance Mashaal will now face from the Gaza leaders of the movement. One of the biggest challenges of reconciliation — how to blend the two sides’ separate security forces — remains unresolved.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister of Gaza, said he welcomed the agreement. Initial reports that a Hamas delegation from Gaza went to Doha were incorrect. The delegation headed to Cairo.

The agreement calls for rebuilding Gaza, which has been largely cut off from the world as part of an Israeli-Egyptian border blockade imposed after the Hamas takeover. The blockade was eased in the past year, but not enough to revive the Gaza economy, including the vital construction industry, and many large-scale projects remain on hold.

Qatar is willing to spend as much as $10 billion to help repair the damage of the rift, including settling mutual grievances by supporters of Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah movement who at the height of tensions fought bloody street battles, the Palestinian officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the closed-door meetings with reporters. The figure could not be confirmed independently.

Al-Ahmed and Shaath, the Abbas aides, said they expect the composition of the new government to be announced during a Feb. 18 meeting of Palestinian political factions in Cairo.

They said Abbas would set an election date 90 days after the Central Elections Commissions has updated voter records in Gaza, a process that could take several weeks. The initial reconciliation pact envisioned elections in May, but this is no longer realistic, the aides said. Shaath said he believes the voting could take place by July.

Palestinian activists hold banners during a protest the against peace talks in the West Bank city of Ramallah Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank — A low-level dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians about a future border has ended without any breakthrough, the Palestinian president said Wednesday, reflecting the impasse plaguing the negotiations for at least three years.

President Mahmoud Abbas said he would consult with Arab allies next week to figure out how to proceed now. While frustrated with the lack of progress, Abbas is under pressure to extend the Jordanian-mediated exploratory talks, which the international community hopes will lead to a resumption of long-stalled formal negotiations on establishing a Palestinian state.

Israel said Wednesday it’s willing to continue the dialogue. Abbas didn’t close the door to continued meetings, saying he’ll decide after consultations with the Arab League on Feb. 4.

A Palestinian walkout could cost Abbas international sympathy at a time when he seeks global recognition of a state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

Though there have been talks off and on, the last substantive round was in late 2008, when Israel informally proposed a deal and the Palestinians did not respond. When Netanyahu took office the next year, he took the proposal, including a state in most of the territories the Palestinians claim, off the table.

A round started in late 2010 by President Barack Obama quickly sputtered over the settlement issue.

Visiting EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is scheduled to meet separately over the next two days with Abbas and Netanyahu to try to salvage the exploratory talks. Two officials involved in the contacts said she is trying to put together a package of Israeli incentives that would keep the Palestinians from walking away.

“We need to keep talks going and increase the potential of these talks to become genuine negotiations,” Ashton said.

Palestinian officials said they submitted their proposals, but that Israel did not. Abbas suggested that exploratory talks could continue if Israel presented a detailed border plan.
In the exploratory talks, Israel submitted a list of 21 issues that would need to be discussed, but didn’t present positions.

The Palestinians have accused Netanyahu — a reluctant latecomer to the idea of Palestinian statehood — of seeking negotiations as a diplomatic shield, with no real intention of reaching an agreement.

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Jordan’s King Abdullah II paid a rare visit to the West Bank on Monday to show support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as the two moderate leaders try to engage with previously shunned Islamists now on the rise in the region.

Abbas is holding power-sharing talks later this week with Khaled Mashaal, the top leader of the rival Islamic militant group Hamas. The two will try to end a bitter split caused by Hamas’ violent takeover of Gaza in 2007 that left Abbas’ government in control only of the West Bank. Mashaal is also set to pay an official visit to Jordan, his first since the movement was expelled in 1999.

The king’s visit Monday to the West Bank is only his third in 12 years as monarch — and first in more than a decade. It’s seen mainly as an acknowledgment of Abbas as the sole legitimate Palestinian leader and an attempt to forestall any negative fallout from Mashaal’s upcoming Jordan trip.

A rapidly changing regional constellation has forced Abbas and Jordan’s king to reach out to former Islamist foes.

Asked about Mashaal’s upcoming visit, the kingdom’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh insisted that Jordan keeps channels of communication “open with everyone.”

Abbas later praised the king’s visit as a “generous initiative,” in remarks carried by the Palestinian news agency Wafa. On the issue of Jordan-Hamas rapprochement, Abbas said he closely coordinates with the king and supports whatever Abdullah decides to do for the benefit of his country.

Abbas and Abdullah have been among the staunchest proponents of a peace deal with Israel.

However, there’s little chance of reviving Israeli-Palestinian talks. Negotiations broke down three years ago, in part because Abbas does not believe he can reach a deal with Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who refuses to halt settlement expansion on occupied lands.

In New York, the U.N.’s Mideast envoy, Robert Serry, warned that the two-state solution concept is threatened by the lack of peace talks. He told the Security Council Monday that “the lack of mutual trust and tensions on the ground” have made the resumption of direct talks difficult, singling out Israeli settlement construction.

Meanwhile, Islamist movements have been gaining ground across the region amid the Arab Spring uprisings, which have brought down pro-Western dictators in Egypt and Tunisia.

Abdullah — whose country signed a peace deal with Israel in 1994 — was not visiting Israel on Monday, and Israeli officials had no comment on his visit to the West Bank.

Abbas is due to meet Mashaal in the Egyptian capital Cairo later this week to try to give a new push to inter-Palestinian power-sharing talks. The two reached a reconciliation agreement in principle earlier this year, but talks stalled over the composition of an interim unity government.

After meeting with Abbas, Mashaal will travel to Jordan for his first official visit since he and other Hamas leaders were expelled more than a decade ago.

Hamas’ parent movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, has gained influence across the region as part of the anti-government protests. Jordan’s own Brotherhood has led pro-democracy demonstrations across the kingdom in recent months.

A Jewish settler carries a rifle as he participates in a protest against the Palestinian bid for statehood outside the Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba, near the West Bank town of Hebron, on Sept. 20.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinians can’t resume negotiations with Israel under current conditions and will pursue their bid to win U.N. recognition, a top Palestinian official said Thursday, after President Mahmoud Abbas and senior officials reviewed the latest appeal from Mideast mediators to restart talks and reach a deal within a year.

Last week, Abbas asked the U.N. to grant full membership to a state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. In a turning point for Palestinian diplomacy, Abbas overrode strong objections by the U.S. which, like Israel, argues that a state must arise from negotiations.

Since returning from the U.N., both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have tried to avoid being blamed for the deepening impasse.
The Palestinians say they can’t be expected to negotiate while Israel keeps expanding settlements, thus pre-empting the outcome of a deal. They say they suspect Netanyahu wants talks as a diplomatic shield, but is not interested in reaching a deal.

Netanyahu alleges the Palestinians are not serious about peace and says he is ready to negotiate at any time. However, the Israeli leader refuses to halt settlement construction or recognize the pre-1967 frontier as a baseline, rejecting internationally backed positions and Palestinian demands.

After the Palestinians’ U.N. bid, the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the U.S., the U.N., the European Union and Russia — called for the resumption of talks and a deal within a year.

Abed Rabbo also said the Palestinians will keep pursuing U.N. recognition. Currently, the 15-member U.N. Security Council is reviewing the issue. The U.S. has already said it would veto the request should the Palestinians muster the required nine votes.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki told reporters Thursday that the Palestinians have secured eight votes so far, and that they are lobbying for more support.

Despite the certain U.S. veto, the Palestinians are pushing for a majority in the council, in part to show that their statehood bid has international support. Malki told reporters that eight council members — Russia, China, India, South Africa, Brazil, Lebanon, Nigeria and Gabon — are expected to vote for Palestinian membership.

Also Thursday, the Palestinian Economics Ministry said that without Israel’s occupation, the Palestinian economy would be almost double in size and entirely independent of foreign aid.

The ministry said losses due to Israeli restrictions amount to nearly $7 billion a year, or 85 percent of the Palestinian nominal gross domestic product. This includes nearly $2 billion in losses due to Israel’s blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza, water use restrictions and restrictions on natural resources respectively, said Economics Minister Hassan Abu Libdeh.

Printed on September 30, 2011 as: Without statehood, negotiations will not continue

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responds to questions of Middle East talks ahead of the looming Palestinian statehood vote at the UN General Assembly, Monday, Sept. 19, 2011, in the Manhattan borough of New York. She describes the talks as “extremely intensive ongoing diplomacy.”

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

The Obama administration insisted Monday there was still time to avert a divisive showdown over Palestinian statehood, ignoring President Mahmoud Abbas’ defiant pledge to take his government’s case to the United Nations and reaching out to Western allies in the hopes of a last-ditch compromise.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. was engaged in “extremely intensive” diplomacy with Israel, the Palestinians and the other governments gathered in New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting.

“We continue to believe and are pressing the point that the only way to a two-state solution, which is what we support and want to see happen, is through negotiations,” Clinton said before a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba.

“No matter what does or doesn’t happen this week, it will not produce the kind of result that everyone is hoping for,” she said.

Clinton said the week was still young and there were still several days to find a compromise. The U.S. and Europe have been trying to find a formula that would pave the way for direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, while addressing the Palestinian frustration with the lack of progress over the past year.

Only 12 months ago, President Barack Obama said he hoped to welcome Palestine as the newest U.N. member at this year’s global gathering. But the Palestinian decision to go the United Nations without agreement with Israel caused Washington to work against the plan and promise to veto it in the U.N. Security Council.

Obama, who arrived in New York on Monday afternoon, was scheduled to meet later in the week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though there were no immediate plans for the president to meet Abbas.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the U.S. and international partners continue to be in touch with the Palestinians “at all levels.”