Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas laid out his vision on Monday for the final status of Israeli-Palestinian relations ahead of peace talks due to resume in Washington for the first time in nearly three years.
Abbas said that no Israeli settlers or border forces could remain in a future Palestinian state and that Palestinians deem illegal all Jewish settlement building within the land occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.
The forceful statements appeared to challenge mediator U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s hopes that the terms of the talks, scheduled to begin Monday night over dinner, be kept secret.
“In a final solution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli - civilian or soldier - on our lands,” Abbas said in a briefing to mostly Egyptian journalists.
“An international, multinational presence like in Sinai, Lebanon and Syria - we are with that,” he said, referring to United Nations peacekeeping operations in those places.
He was in Cairo to meet with Egypt’s interim president Adli Mansour nearly a month after the country’s armed forces ousted his elected predecessor, Mohamed Mursi. He also discussed with senior Egyptian intelligence figures relations between the two governments and the easing of movement of goods and people between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
Israel has previously said it wants to maintain a military presence in the occupied West Bank at the border with Jordan to prevent any influx of weapons that could be used against it.
But Abbas said he stood by understandings he said he reached with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, predecessor to more right-wing leader Benjamin Netanyahu, that NATO forces could deploy there “as a security guarantee to us and them.”
The United States is seeking to broker an agreement on a two-state solution in which Israel would exist peacefully alongside a new Palestinian state created in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, lands occupied by the Israelis since a 1967 war.
The talks will be conducted by senior aides to Netanyahu - Israel’s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho - and to Abbas - represented by Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Ishtyeh.
On the future of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and the status of Jerusalem - among the most contentious issues facing the two sides - Abbas signalled no softening of his stance.
“We’ve already made all the necessary concessions,” he said.
“East Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Palestine … if there were and must be some kind of small exchange (of land) equal in size and value, we are ready to discuss this - no more, no less,” he said.
TERMS OF REFERENCE
Before agreeing to return to talks last week, Palestinian officials were adamant that negotiations should have three main prerequisites: the release of veteran Arab prisoners in Israeli jails, a full settlement freeze and an acknowledgment of the 1967 lines as the basis for future borders.
Israel has publicly granted only one of those demands when its cabinet on Sunday voted by a slim margin to approved the phased release of 104 Arab prisoners.
Abbas said on Monday that he refused to endorse any half-measure whereby he would let Israel freeze construction in smaller, more far-flung settlements but allow it to build in the larger and more populous “blocs” closer to the 1967 lines.
“There was a request, ‘We’ll only build here, what do you think?’ If I agreed, I would legitimize all the rest (of the settlements). I said no. I said out loud and in writing that, to us, settlements in their entirety are illegitimate.”
Asked if the Americans may try to get Israel to agree to a de facto settlement freeze, the president made a broad smile and declined to answer: “I don’t know.”
Palestinian sources say officials remain uncomfortable with the lack of a firm Israeli commitment, publicly or behind closed doors, to meet their remaining expectations.
They say that in talks in the coming days, the Americans hope to satisfy Palestinian objections by issuing a statement declaring the 1967 lines the basis for negotiations, and the United States will attempt to compel the Israelis to endorse their note.
Israeli officials have in public repeatedly refused to accede to the Palestinian demands, calling them preconditions on issues that must be agreed at the end, not the start, of talks.
Senior aide to the president Tayyeb Abdul Rahim, accompanying Abbas, told Reuters, “We’re between too opinions: should Israel agree to stop building settlements, or should they agree to a state on the 1967 borders to go back to talks.
“What’s stronger? (The second) means that all settlements are illegitimate. America is convinced of our point of view … Israel has not yet agreed to a state on the 1967 lines, but it will go to the talks on that basis.”