NEW YORK (Ma'an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas met with Palestinian-Americans from across the 50 states on Thursday, for an hour-long meeting where he reasserted his position on a resumption of settlement construction.
"I will say this once in front of you, if they want negotiations, then they will continue with settlement freeze otherwise the negotiations will stop, and we are sorry to waste the opportunity," Abbas told assembled guests.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told colleagues during a series of phone calls seeking to find a solution to the settlement issue, "if the Palestinians want peace, they will stay in the talks with us in order to reach a framework agreement within one year."
Abbas, speaking at the Egyptian Embassy in New York, made clear that he was resolute on the issue, saying "we told the Americans and Israel that we will not continue with the negotiations if the settlements were not frozen on our ground, this is our condition; we had said it and we are saying it in each bilateral meeting, in each group meeting."
Explaining the pressures he faced, Abbas said that "the Israelis say to us: you negotiated with Olmert while settlements were being built, why won't you talk now. And I say to them, that is in the past, and we have never stopped demanding a settlement halt. Enough is enough."
Laying out his negotiations position, the president explained that he was negotiating for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders. "We do not mind land swaps of similar value in some instances," he said, adding that the prospect of international forces from NATO or similar to the UNIFIL force operating in southern Lebanon was agreeable to officials.
The forces, he added, must simply not be Israeli, or even include one single Israeli whether from the civilian population or the military.
"East Jerusalem is ours and West Jerusalem is theirs. The city can and should be open to all religions, but it must first be clear that this is our capital."
Asked what would be done if talks failed, Abbas said it was not his decision to make. "The PLO leadership, the National Council, Fatah and leaders of other factions would have to decide what to do," he said. Addressing Palestinian-Americans
The Palestinian president addressed more than 100 Palestinians from as far west as California, telling a large contingent from Chicago that he was sorry he could not travel to meet them following an invitation to speak in Illinois. "You must please pardon me, I’m an elderly man, I can’t travel all of these distances."
He promised, however, that "the Palestinian leadership will work on that," and that he understood "why you all came from such faraway places to attend this meeting; we must continue these forums so we can exchange ideas, consult, check on your situations and give you valued news of your homeland."
Abbas then gave a sweeping update on negotiations from George Bush senior to the present day. He said Palestinian officials had hoped for an even larger Arab presence at the opening round of talks in Washington, but added that in the end the United States had decided on the guest list. Unity
Fatah continues to support the Egyptian unity document, Abbas said, commenting on recent visits by party officials to Lebanon and Syria for visits with top level Hamas leaders.
"The PA had agreed on it to restore unity," he said of the document, adding that "we formed a national unity government with Hamas and did not care that the world laid siege to us on that account.
"They say the Abbas is under American pressure, but I ratified the Egyptian proposal and I had formed with Hamas a unity government. I transfer $121 million - 58 percent of the PA budget - monthly to Gaza even after the coup, but Hamas does not care and does not understand that 96 percent of the water in Gaza is polluted, that economic life has been destroyed, and they have made the people there live off goods smuggled in through tunnels."
When Hamas decides to ratify the unity agreement, Abbas said, he will immediately form a unity government. The first mission of that government would be bringing in some $4 billion dollars in aid pledged to rebuild Gaza after former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert launched the 2008-9 war on the coastal enclave.
The second mandate of the unity government would be to go immediately to presidential and parliamentary elections. "My term is over, their term is over; elections must be held if we are to be honest."
Abbas said that in comparison with Gaza, the West Bank was flourishing. "I do not claim that there is full growth, but the conditions are different, life is improving, there are theaters, restaurants, places open until dawn because people feel safe. We do not lack independence, we are building the foundations of a state that will be ready the moment we declare independence."