Palestinian Calls for Talks on Statehood
Mahmoud Abbas, the leading candidate for the Palestinian Authority presidency, said Sunday that Palestinians wanted to begin negotiating final statehood terms with Israel as soon as possible and hoped to reach an accord by the end of next year.
Abbas told reporters after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo that Palestinians would not accept a temporary solution.
“Even a state with interim borders is a waste of time,” said Abbas, who heads the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Abbas said the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005, as envisioned under a U.S.-backed peace plan known as the “road map,” is a realistic goal.
“We’re only 13 months away [from the end of 2005], so that’s enough time to negotiate and put an end to this problem,” Abbas said in statements carried on Palestinian television and other Arab media.
Israel -- which in the wake of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s death has been careful not to make any public statements undermining Abbas, who is considered a moderate -- responded cautiously, noting that the peace plan calls for the creation of an interim Palestinian state before a final settlement.
“We are committed to the road map, and the road map is both incremental and transitional,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.
Palestinian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Abbas’ statements did not necessarily constitute a challenge to the terms of the peace blueprint proposed by the Bush administration, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.
The plan languished during the last year of Arafat’s life, amid recriminations by Israel and the Palestinians. Neither side took significant steps to implement its provisions.
Abbas was accompanied on his visit by senior Palestinian Authority officials, including Prime Minister Ahmed Korei. Palestinians are committed to establishing a “real democracy,” Abbas said, with Jan. 9 elections for the Palestinian Authority presidency viewed as a crucial first step.
Egypt is expected to play a key role in the coming months if Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon proceeds with his plan to withdraw Jewish settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip. Sharon had intended to carry out the plan without consulting the Palestinians. But after Arafat’s death on Nov. 11, Sharon indicated that he would be willing to coordinate the pullout with a new Palestinian government.
Regev said Sharon was willing to meet with Abbas any time, but suggested that such an encounter would have to wait until after the January elections.
“It’s understood that during the process of internal Palestinian elections, it’s not necessarily in a Palestinian politician’s interest to express moderation,” Regev said.
Abbas said Palestinian officials intended to proceed with efforts to streamline the fragmented Palestinian security forces -- a measure that had been resisted by Arafat, who sought to ensure commanders’ personal loyalty to him.
“We want only one legally armed Palestinian force,” Israel Radio quoted Abbas as saying.
Such reform of the Palestinian security forces -- some of which operate as armed factions -- has long been sought by Israel.
Mubarak offered security assistance for the January elections, said presidential spokesman Maged Abdel Fattah. “Egypt is interested in supporting the election process being carried out peacefully,” the spokesman said.
In addition to the January vote, Palestinians intend to hold municipal council balloting on Dec. 23 and parliamentary elections in May.
Hamalawy reported from Cairo and King from Jerusalem.