Abbas Rejects 'Temporary Borders' for Palestine
Monday, January 15, 2007
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Jan. 14 -- Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday adamantly rejected "any temporary or transitional solutions, including a state with temporary borders," throwing cold water on an idea advanced by Israel's foreign minister.
Abbas spoke at a joint news conference with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is touring the region this week in what she bills as an effort to listen to ideas to rekindle the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Rice said she wants to "accelerate" a three-stage, U.S.-backed peace plan from 2003 known as the "road map" but has been vague about what she means. "When I say accelerate, we want to look at it and see how fast you can move," she told reporters traveling with her.
So far, Rice has been hearing conflicting advice: The Israelis have advanced the idea of jumping to the second stage, an interim state, and the Palestinians have pressed for going to the third stage, a permanent state. Rice, who had dinner with Jordan's King Abdullah in Amman on Sunday and travels to Egypt on Monday, will get more advice from Israel's neighbors.
Egypt and Jordan want to drop the road map and move immediately to "final status" talks, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said last week. "Let us agree on the end of the road, and let us agree on what we call . . . the endgame before we talk about the road map," he said.
Rice has not tipped her hand about which approach she favors -- or whether she has her own ideas. Referring to Abbas's desire to skip the second stage envisioned in the road map, Rice said: "I've heard how he sees the road map and how to get to that end state. And so I think it's not a bad thing to listen. But . . . it's also important to act, and we'll look for ways to act."
Rice told reporters that she planned longer meetings with Arab and Israeli officials during her trip. She noted that this is her third trip to the region since October to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian issue and pledged anew to devote more effort to achieving peace.
"We have heard loud and clear the call for deeper American engagement," Rice said. "You will have my commitment to do precisely that."
The radical Islamic group Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections a year ago, putting the peace process on hold because Hamas refuses to recognize Israel. Abbas, who favors negotiations, has struggled for a year to reach an accord with Hamas that would allow peace negotiations to begin.
When Rice met Abbas in late November, he told her that national unity talks had collapsed and faced little prospect of success. He suggested that he would call for new elections, which could sweep Hamas from power, but since then more than 30 Palestinians have been killed in clashes between supporters of Hamas and Fatah, Abbas's party. In recent weeks, perhaps timed for Rice's trip, the national unity talks began again.
"We hope and we endeavor to achieve this as soon as possible so this would lead to a happy end by which the government will be established," Abbas said. "Otherwise we will go back to the people, and we will hold legislative and presidential elections, early elections."
The Bush administration, joined by other countries, wants to equip and train Fatah security forces under an $86 million plan that needs congressional approval. "Hamas is armed, and the worst outcome would be that the Palestinians who are, in fact, devoted to the road map . . . are the ones who are unarmed," Rice told reporters traveling with her.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whom Rice will meet Monday, is suffering from plunging approval ratings, adding to the complexity of restarting peace talks. In November, Olmert attempted to strengthen his ruling coalition by giving the strategic affairs portfolio to Avigdor Lieberman, a party leader who has advocated excluding all but "loyal" Arabs from Israel.
In a private meeting with Rice on Saturday, Lieberman told her that it was only a matter of time before Israel reinvaded the Gaza Strip and that Israel would not withdraw until NATO deployed 30,000 troops, Israeli news media reported. Rice declined to comment on her conversations with Lieberman, except to say that she was "going to enlist the support of anybody" in her search for peace.
Olmert and Abbas met recently for the first time since Olmert became prime minister nearly a year ago. Rice has called the meeting a success, and Abbas said it was "good." But Abbas spokesman Mohamed Edwan said Olmert had failed to fulfill certain pledges, thus badly damaging Abbas in the eyes of Palestinians.