Abbas Says Talks With Israel to Continue

Despite 'resignation' of Palestinian Authority negotiating team, PA head says they'll continue talking until the end of 9-month deadline.

Ari Soffer and AFP ,

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas
Flash 90

Talks with Israel will continue for the full nine months as agreed with Washington "regardless of what happens on the ground", Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday.    

In an exclusive interview with AFP at his Muqataa headquarters in Ramallah, the PA leader also called for an international inquiry to determine who was responsible for the death of his predecessor Yasser Arafat, after scientists said it was likely he was poisoned.    

Speaking ahead of a key visit to Ramallah by French President Francois Hollande, who is currently visiting Israeli officials, Abbas reaffirmed his commitment to push ahead with the US-backed peace talks, despite his anger over continued development of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.    

"We have committed to continue the negotiations for nine months, regardless of what happens on the ground," he said, adding "We are committed and we will go to the full nine months, and then we will take the appropriate decision". 

After months of intensive shuttle diplomacy by US Secretary of State John Kerry, Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed to begin direct talks in late July with the ambitious aim of reaching a comprehensive agreement within nine months.    

That goal has been derided as hopelessly naive by observers on both sides, but Kerry has repeatedly insisted he believe it is possible.

Abbas said his team of negotiators lead by Saeb Erakat, which collectively resigned three days ago over Israeli building plan sin Judea and Samaria, would remain in place for the time being.

"The delegation to the talks handed in its resignation which we have still not accepted. The Palestinian leadership is studying it and today they met to discuss it, but decided to take a little longer to make a decision," he explained.    

He also demanded an international inquiry to determine responsibility for the death in 2004 of Arafat following revelations by a team of Swiss scientists suggesting he was killed by polonium poisoning.

Those findings have been questioned by independent experts, who have questioned how traces of polonium could still be present in the large quantities claimed after nearly 10 years.

Revelations by the Washington Free Beacon last week also raised questions about the objectivity of the study, after it was revealed that the Swiss experts were being funded by the Palestinian Authority and Arafat's ex-wife Suha - both of whom have repeatedly asserted that Israel is to blame for Yasser Arafat's death.

"We have indications that president Yasser Arafat did not die of old age nor of illness but that he died of poisoning," Abbas said, summarizing conclusions publicized earlier this month by Swiss and Russian scientists who ran forensic tests on the veteran leader's remains.    

"There are indications he was poisoned, so who poisoned him? And who sent the poison? This needs investigation," he said.    

"That is why we are demanding an international inquiry, like the one France demanded for (the murder of Lebanon's former premier) Rafiq Hariri, to discover who killed Yasser Arafat," he said.    

Arafat died at the age of 75 in a hospital near Paris on November 11, 2004 after falling sick a month earlier. Doctors were unable to specify the cause of death and no post-mortem was carried out at the request of his ex-wife.  

The Palestinian Authority and many Palestinian Arabs have long accused Israel of being behind his death - claims Israel has dismissed as "science fiction".

But the renewed investigation into the former PA leader's death has also reopened old wounds within the PA itself, as well as with rival factions.

In a recent interview with Al Quds TV, a former PA intelligence chief claimed Mahmoud Abbas himself was involved in "poisoning" Arafat.