Abbas tells Obama – Israel talks only in exchange for settlement freeze, release of prisoners 24Mar13 March 24, 2013

by Jack Khoury and Amira Hass    -    Haaretz    -    22 March 2013

446912015A fundamental disagreement broke out on Thursday in the meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and President of the United States Barack Obama, regarding the resumption of negotiations with Israel, a senior Palestinian official told Haaretz.

According to the official, Abbas presented two principles that must be included in a formula that would allow resumption of contact with Israel: freezing the construction of new settlements and the release of prisoners. Obama, in contrast, supported resumption of negotiations without prior demands, which, in his opinion, might postpone the renewal of talks, in which all of the issues can be discussed.

According to Palestinian sources, a list of suggestions and ideas for resuming negotiations was nevertheless proposed. These ideas will most likely be formulated more fully in the coming period together with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. PA Minister of Prisoner Affairs Issa Qaraqea delivered a letter from Palestinian prisoners during Abbas’s meeting with Obama. A Palestinian source familiar with the letter’s details said that the prisoners demanded that Obama intervene personally for their release, and noted that Israel expressed its commitment in the past, both before the Annapolis Conference and in talks between Abbas and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, to release prisoners, especially those imprisoned since before the signing of the Oslo Accords.

Regarding the resumption of negotiations with Israel, the Palestinian official said that the principles and understandings reached with the Americans in the Road Map and the Mitchell Report have been abandoned. He said that “the Obama Administration wants us to resume negotiations in order to establish a sustainable state, but in parallel Israel keeps building in the settlements and cutting the ground out from under the Palestinians’ feet and anyone who seeks an agreement. We can’t discuss a state we are going to establish on land on which settlements are being built.”

He added that Israel and the Obama administration are trying to present the Palestinians as refusing to negotiate, “while the whole world has clearly condemned construction in the settlements.” Following the meeting between Obama and Abbas, Obama met with Palestinian youth at al-Bireh, near Ramallah. He spoke with them at a cultural center before heading to Jerusalem to speak at the International Conference Center.

Members of the PLO and Fatah are furious over what they see as Obama’s lack of assertion regarding the settlements, in contrast with the positions he expressed at the beginning of his first term. A PLO official who watched the televised broadcast of the press conference said that even without receiving a direct report from the talks between Abbas and Obama, it is clear that these talks were characterized by deep disagreements – and that the Palestinians are firm in their decision not to resume negotiations without a settlement freeze.

He added that even taking into account the low expectations from Obama, alongside the symbolic gesture of a first visit after the U.N. declaration, his statements during the press conference shocked experienced politicians in the Palestinian Authority. “In Israel he mentioned the Palestinians – not even ‘Palestine’ – twice,” said the official, “here he mentioned Israel copiously. He spoke of the fear of children from Sderot, but should have also noted the fear of Palestinian children in Gaza and the West Bank. For example the children of the detainee Arafat Jaradat, who died in prison.”

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