BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Palestinian negotiators will continue with peace talks through September but will quit if the settlement freeze is not continued, President Mahmoud Abbas told the Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Ayyam.
"This was made clear to [US] President [Barack] Obama and Secretary of State [Hilary] Clinton and to Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin Netanyahu], and I told him 'You have to know that if you don’t continue with the settlement halt, we will leave these negotiations'," Abbas was quoted as saying.
With the next round of talks set to take place in Egypt's resort town of Sharm Ash-Sheikh, and all Arab partners in the talks facing continued scrutiny at home following a perceived lack of progress following the first talks in Washington, DC on 1-3 September, Abbas laid out the fears of Palestinians:
"There is now a settlement freeze in place, and there is a fear that this freeze will be canceled now that we have resumed talks; there is a fear that settlements will resume construction everywhere. We say that if the settlement freeze is continued, then we will continue the negotiations, but if the freeze expires, then no one can force us to continue the talks."
When negotiations teams meet again alongside their US mediators, Abbas explained, the issues of borders and security will be first on the table, Al-Ayyam reported.
The primary issue in the first round of bilateral talks, he explained, was to stress the fact that Palestinians were willing to engage in talks. As talks continue, he explained to the Egyptian paper, "we have to start with the borders and then security. The borders is basically what concerns us and security is their [Israel's] concern."
Abbas said his approach to borders would begin with the 1967 lines and demarcating a Palestinian state from there. "Once we have the borders set, we can find a solution for Jerusalem, the water and the settlements," he said, adding that the issue of refugees would be tackled in the next round.
Security, the president continued, would be straightforward for Palestinians. "We will accept no Israeli civilian or military presence in the Palestinian lands" as a final status end point, he explained.
"I told them that if they want assurances for their security we would accept a third party presence for a limited period of time, like what happened in the Sinai, we don't mind having a foreign presence on the condition that it is not Israeli, be they Israeli Christians, Muslims or Druze; Israeli forces mean a continued occupation and this we are against."
Addressing questions as to the role of the United States in the mediation of the talks, Abbas said that "of course the US is biased towards Israel; they have not been our allies since 1993, but we are working with American mediators who say they are allies of Israel and we must deal with that reality, we will not make compromises on our constants.
"I will not give up on any of the constants and if they ask me to make concessions on the right of refugees or the 1967 borders, I will leave. I will not accept it on myself to sign on one single concession," he concluded.