The Palestinian Authority has put into the deep freeze American efforts to coax it into direct talks with Israel on its being recognized as a new Arab country within Israel’s borders. Besides rejecting U.S. President Barack Obama’s direct appeal for direct talks, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas now demands that international forces be placed in Judea and Samaria before direct talks can begin.
Abbas’s added his new condition in an interview Saturday with the Jordanian al Ghad newspaper. "Israel must accept that the Palestinian territory in question be that of the 1967 borders and with the presence of a third party," he said.
Abbas claimed that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had agreed to accepting international soldiers and that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu must accept the previous deal, although it was never ratified by the Olmert government. Olmert also has stated that the PA never responded to his proposal, while the PA has charged that it was Olmert who did not answer a PA offer.
Israel is willing to consider the stationing of European troops at Gaza crossings, but only if they are trained fighting forces, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (pictured) told German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. He named the French Foreign Legion, an elite military unit, as an example of the level of combat readiness that any foreign border monitors would need to possess.
Israel has been let down by European troops in the past, the Foreign Minister reminded Westerwelle. In 2005, when Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, European states agreed to take charge of the Rafiah crossing between Gaza and Egypt. However, when Hamas began to threaten the international monitors stationed at Rafiah they fled, leaving the crossing unmanned. Israel was forced to deal with the fallout, which included weapons smuggling, Lieberman added.
Abbas' new condition was made the same day he and U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell talked for three hours in Ramallah, where the PA leader held by his previously-stated determination not to budge from his demands.
As previously reported, Abbas also wants Israel to allow new Arab security posts, referred to by the PA as ”police stations,” throughout Judea and Samaria, including some in Area “C” where Jewish communities are prevalent.
The military establishment has been preparing the groundwork for the acceptance of the idea by recent statements praising PA forces and highlighting meetings between senior Israeli and PA military officers. Current agreements officially bar the PA from having an army, but its police forces have been trained by American generals and are being equipped with 50 armored personnel carriers (APCs).
The next step in the American attempt to bring Israel and the PA to the same table is in the hands of the Arab world. Abbas and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in separate visits, are talking with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Sunday, and the Egyptian leader will then conduct talks with the Arab League later in the week.