Abbas Backs Off Threat on Talks

Abbas told US Jewish leaders, “I cannot say that I will leave the negotiations” if Israel resumes building homes for Jews in Judea and Samaria.”

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, | updated: 12:11

Building project for Jews in eastern Jerusale
Building project for Jews in eastern Jerusale
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Abbas told American Jewish leaders Tuesday night,  “I cannot say that I will leave the negotiations” if Israel resumes building homes for Jews in Judea and Samaria.”

He added that it would be “difficult for me to resume talks” if the 10-month building freezes is not extended, but his softer language was the first time he has backed off from his threat to walk out if his demands are not met. Editor of the Hebrew newspaper Makor Rishon, Uri Elitzur, predicted this in an interview with  INN news on Tuesday, but saw it as part of a master plan that would soon make the PA state a fait accompli.

The United States and the European Union have put intense pressure on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to extend the moratorium. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested that it be extended for three months, by which time the Palestinian Authority and Israel would be required to draw up final borders.

There are those who claim that  this would allow Israel to continue to build in communities that are to remain part of the country in any agreement, but Prime Minister Netanyahu rejected that limiting idea. He explained that the freeze was imposed to meet Abbas' condition for talks and not for any other purpose,  but that he then continued to refuse to sit down at the same table with Israel for months anyway.

Abbas spoke with approximately 60 American Jewish leaders for the second time this year, despite criticism from many leaders after the first meeting that he was trying to use them to fortify his position at Israel’s expense. The meeting was sponsored by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.

The PA leader argued that he did not boycott talks for the past 10 months, during which time U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell tried arrange ”proximity talks” that the United States was to mediate. They did not get off the ground until less than two months ago and lasted for only one or two meetings that were bogged down with the building freeze demand.

“Now, when we are starting real negotiations, now he [Netanyahu] refuses to give us two, three, four months, to give the opportunity for negotiations to tackle final status issues,” Abbas said. “Why? We cannot miss this opportunity.”

Abbas also indicated the possibility he would soften his position against agreeing to call Israel a “Jewish State.” One Jewish leader asked him what he would do if Israel changed its official name to “The Jewish State of Israel,” Abbas answered, “Of course, we have to accept it.”

There was no report on any reference to the status of Jerusalem, the most contentious ”final status issue,” but Abbas hinted that he would not insist on the Arab world’s demand that Israel allow the immigration of several million foreign Arabs who claim Israel as their home through ancestry.