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Mahmoud Abbas: Israel has been taking unilateral measures for years

Palestinian Authority president responds to Netanyahu's criticism of Palestinians possibly seeking UN recognition of state; "settlements are a unilateral step done by Israel," Abbas says.

October 25, 2010 BETHLEHEM, West Bank (KATAKAMI / JPOST)   — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Monday that Israel has been taking unilateral steps for decades by building settlements, so the Palestinians might take one of their own — asking the United Nations to recognize their independent state.

Abbas was replying to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who said the only path to peace is negotiations. The threat of unilateral action indicates the depth of the crisis over peace talks restarted just last month by US President Barack Obama.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank are at the heart of the current stalemate. Netanyahu imposed a 10-month halt to new construction in settlements last November to bring Palestinians back to the table. But it took nine months of intensive US mediation to restart direct talks.

Netanyahu faced stiff opposition to the building restrictions from inside his government and said he would not renew the measure, which expired Sept. 26. Construction has begun on more than 500 new homes since then, according to settler officials and a count by The Associated Press.

Palestinians insist they will not hold talks while settlement construction continues. They have been suggesting recently that they would seek other solutions if the talks fail.

One possibility would be asking the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

That would not dislodge the Israeli military from the West Bank, dismantle the 120 Jewish settlements there or give Palestinians free access to east Jerusalem. But it could isolate Israel and change the diplomatic equation.

On Sunday, Netanyahu criticized this idea.

“I think any attempt to circumvent it by going to international bodies isn’t realistic and won’t advance true peacemaking in any way,” Netanyahu said. “Peace will be achieved only through direct talks.”

During a visit to Bethlehem on Monday, Abbas responded that Israel has been taking unilateral measures in the West Bank for decades — especially by building settlements.

“Settlements are a unilateral step done by Israel,” Abbas said. “Is there anything clearer than settlements and invasions and roadblocks and all that has been done on Palestinian land?”

Given that reality, Abbas said, Netanyahu should not lecture the Palestinians about a step they might take in the future, “which is to resort to the United Nations.”

Palestinian officials have mentioned this possibility before, but Abbas’ statement was a rare on-the-record reference to the idea.


Abbas and Saudi king discuss stalled peace talks

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) speaks to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Riyadh October 22, 2010. (Getty Images / REUTERS/Saudi Press Agency/Handout )

October 22, 2010 (KATAKAMI / FRANCE24 / AFP) – Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas held talks on Friday with King Abdullah that focused on the stalled peace process with Israel, the official Saudi news agency SPA reported.

They discussed “developments in the Palestinian issue and efforts exerted to put the peace process back on the right path,” it said.

The two leaders also discussed the “need for the international community to assume responsibility to achieve a just and comprehensive peace that would guarantee the Palestinian people’s right to establish its independent state on its national soil, with Jerusalem as a capital,” it added.

Abbas left Riyadh on Friday afternoon, the agency added.

A Palestinian diplomat in Riyadh told AFP Thursday that Abbas’s visit “comes at a critical stage in the negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”

The diplomat pointed to Israel’s refusal to extend a moratorium on Jewish settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem that expired on September 26.

On October 9, foreign ministers of the Arab League, in which Saudi Arabia plays a leading role, said they would wait one more month to see if the direct peace talks can be restarted.

Since the settlement moratorium ended, Jewish settlers have begun building at least 600 homes, a pace four times faster than before the freeze began last year, the Israeli activist group Peace Now said on Thursday.

Abbas told Arab summit Israel has ‘cancelled Oslo’: aide

President Mahmoud Abbas attends Arab League Summit, October 09, 2010 in Sirte, Libya. (Getty Images)




October 11, 2010 (KATAKAMI / FRANCE 24 / AFP)  – Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas told Arab leaders over the weekend that Israel has in effect scrapped the landmark 1993 Oslo autonomy accords, an aide said on Monday.

“Abbas affirmed to the Arabs that Israel has effectively cancelled the Oslo agreement and the other agreements it has signed with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO),” chief negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.

He went on to accuse Israel of having stripped the Palestinian Authority of much of its limited powers in the occupied territories and of “intruding on a daily basis” into areas governed by the Palestinians, Erakat said.
“If Israel does not respect agreements or adhere to implementing them then how can the PLO and the Palestinian Authority adhere to them?” he asked.

The 1993 Oslo accords formally launched the peace process based on autonomy and led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority, which was to govern parts of the occupied West Bank and Gaza until a final agreement.

But after nearly two decades of sputtering talks Israel and the Palestinians remain bitterly divided on core issues and Abbas has refused to negotiate without a complete freeze of Jewish settlement building on Palestinian lands.

Erakat said that Abbas, at the Arab summit in the Libyan city of Sirte, also spelled out several alternatives to direct negotiations should Israel continue to build in the occupied territories.

One option would have the Palestinians demand US recognition of a state in the Palestinian territories occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war: the West Bank, Gaza Strip and annexed Arab east Jerusalem.

Abbas said other options include demanding full membership from the UN General Assembly and the Security Council or requesting an international mandate to govern the Palestinian territories, Erakat said.

“Abbas did not say he would resign or dissolve the Palestinian Authority,” Erakat said, referring to far more drastic steps to which the Palestinians have alluded in the past.

“But he said that since Israel has cancelled the Oslo accords and the other agreements and stripped the power of the Palestinian Authority over Palestinian lands, why should it remain in place?”

The latest round of peace talks was relaunched on September 2 in Washington but ground to a halt when a 10-month partial moratorium on Israeli settlements expired on September 26.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to extend the restrictions, a move opposed by much of his right-wing-led coalition, but he has encouraged the Palestinians to stick to the talks.


Arab League urges US to call halt on Israeli settlements

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, center, listens to Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem, right and Amr Moussa, Secretary general of the Arab League, during the Arab Foreign Ministers Peace Initiative meeting, in Sirte, Libya, Friday, Oct. 8, 2010. (Getty Images)




October 09, 2010 (KATAKAMI) — Arab foreign ministers have given the US another month to persuade Israel to halt settlement activity in the occupied territories – backing the decision by Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to suspend peace talks.

Talks in Libya produced a statement by the Arab League last night urging the Obama administration to carry on working for an extension of Israel’s 10-month settlement freeze, which expired last month, so that the already faltering negotiations can continue.

Abbas had urged ministers of the 22-member league to back his call for more time before pronouncing the talks a failure, as many observers predict they eventually will be.

Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who chaired the meeting in the coastal town of Sirte, told reporters: “The committee endorses the decision of President Abbas to stop the talks. It urges the American side to pursue efforts to resume the peace process and put it back on the right track, including stopping settlements.”

The league committee will meet again within one month to study alternatives proposed by Abbas.

The effect of the Arab decision is to allow the quest for negotiations to go into extra time despite what had appeared to be an early and potentially terminal crisis over the ever-intractable settlement issue.

Direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were ceremonially relaunched early last month in Washington and just two working sessions were held in Egypt and Jerusalem before the expiry of the settlement moratorium.

The US has urged Israel to extend it, but the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has refused to do so, arguing that the housing needs of Jewish settlers were simply a matter of “natural growth” and blaming the Palestinians for making an unreasonable demand.

Abbas and other Palestinian officials had made clear they would not be able to carry on negotiating with Israel without an extension of the freeze, even for two or three months.

Palestinians see the presence of 500,000 Israelis in some 120 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a threat to the viability of their future state and a freeze as a key test of Israel’s good faith.

Diplomats and analysts say that while both sides are deeply pessimistic about prospects for success, neither wishes to be blamed for the collapse of the peace process. That would be a grave blow to US prestige and risk political chaos and a possible slide into violence on the ground.

“There are no talks at the moment because the position of the Israelis is very, very negative,” said the Arab League’s Egyptian secretary-general, Amr Moussa. “They are not cooperating in the negotiations.”

Abbas’s position was backed by Egypt and Jordan, which both have peace treaties with Israel, as well as Saudi Arabia and most Gulf states, which do not. But Libya and Syria have reservations. Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Muallem, conspicuously stated away from the Sirte meeting.

In the West Bank town of Hebron, meanwhile, Israeli troops shot and killed two Palestinians who were described as members of the military wing of Hamas, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades. The two were reportedly part of the cell responsible for an attack which killed four Israeli settlers on the eve of the relaunch of the talks.

Abbas threatens to resign if peace talks fail

(FILE) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel (C), Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (L) and U.S. President Barack Obama talk after they delivering remarks to the press following their individual meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington on September 1, 2010.




October 08, 2010 [KATAKAMI / RANTBURG /Al Arabiya] Paleostinian President the ineffectual Mahmoud Abbas signaled his intention to resign if US peace talks with Israel fail, a front man for the Paleostinian National Council (PNC) said Thursday.

In a PNC meeting early this week, President Abbas said, “I may be sitting on this (presidency) chair only for another week,” according to Khalid Mismar.

A senior Paleostinian official said on Thursday he saw no hope of a serious peace processor with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in some of the darkest comments to date on the U.S.-mediated talks.

A senior Paleostinian official said on Thursday he saw no hope of a serious peace processor with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in some of the darkest comments to date on the U.S.-mediated talks.

Yasser Abed Rabbo’s remarks signaled deep Paleostinian skepticism about the outlook for the talks, which began on Sept. 2 but have been on hold since an Israeli moratorium on new settlement building in the West Bank expired last week.

The United States wants the talks to continue and has been trying to find a formula to save the negotiations.

“There will be no serious political process while Netanyahu’s government pursues settlements,” Abed Rabbo told Voice of Paleostine radio.

“I can go further still and say that there will be no serious political process with Netanyahu’s government.”

Netanyahu, who heads a cabinet dominated by pro-settler parties, including his own Likud, has said he will not extend the freeze which his government had enforced for 10 months.

Abbas and Netanyahu met three times before the end of the moratorium. The Paleostine Liberation Organization (PLO) said on Saturday talks would not resume until Israel halted settlement building on land where the Paleostinians aim to found a state.

The United States and European Union had called on Israel to extend the settlement freeze. The expiry of the moratorium had been seen as an early obstacle facing U.S. President Barack B.O. Obama’s push to end the six-decade-old conflict within a year.

Obama urges Israel to help loosen aid flow to Gaza


June 10, 2010

(IBTIMES)   President Barack Obama urged Israel on Wednesday to help ease restrictions on the flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza following a deadly flotilla raid, and pledged $400 million (275 million pounds) in assistance to the Palestinians.

Hosting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House, Obama described the situation in the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip as “unsustainable” and called on the Jewish state to work with all parties to find a solution.

But Obama, sticking to a cautious line, stopped short of joining in broader international condemnation of close U.S. ally Israel over last week’s flotilla incident and did not back Abbas’s demand for a lifting of the Gaza blockade.

“The status quo that we have is one that’s inherently unstable,” Obama told reporters with Abbas at his side in the Oval Office.

Obama also called on Israel and the Palestinians to do more to advance U.S.-mediated indirect peace talks as he sought to contain the fallout from the flotilla incident.

Abbas’s visit came amid an international backlash against Israel after its forces boarded a Turkish aid ship bound for the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on May 31. Nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed.

The Palestinian leader urged Obama, who has been more measured in his response to the flotilla raid than the broader international community, to take a tougher line with Israel.

“We see the need to lift the Israeli siege of the Palestinian people,” Abbas said.

Obama voiced sympathy for the plight of Palestinians in impoverished Gaza but insisted that any solution must also meet Israel’s security needs. Israel says its three-year-old blockade is required to stop weapons smuggling to Hamas. Palestinians call it collective punishment.

“There should be ways of focussing narrowly on arms shipments, rather than focussing in a blanket way on stopping everything and then, in a piecemeal way, allowing things into Gaza,” Obama insisted, saying his administration had begun some “hard-headed” discussions with Israel on the issue.


There was no sign of a breakthrough in Abbas’s talks with Obama, but the U.S. president did not send his Palestinian counterpart home empty-handed. Obama announced $400 million in new economic development aid for the West Bank and Gaza.

Any fresh infusion of funds to Gaza would come with strings attached to keep it out of the hands of Hamas, which is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. Hamas Islamists seized control of the coastal enclave from Abbas’s Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in 2007.

In recent years, U.S. aid to the Palestinians has been sent mostly to the West Bank, where Abbas governs, or funneled to Gaza through international agencies.

Signalling a U.S. desire to boost Abbas’s standing with his people, reporters were allowed into the Oval Office to see the leaders together. Press coverage was barred during a tense visit in November by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which Israeli media widely interpreted as a snub.

Obama reiterated his support for a “credible” investigation of the flotilla incident, saying it was important to “get the facts out.” But he steered clear of calls for an independent international probe. Israel has insisted on conducting its own inquiry, with a role for foreign experts or observers.

Despite heightened regional tensions, the Obama administration is seeking to keep alive indirect U.S.-brokered talks that have made little headway since starting in early May. Obama hopes to push the sides towards direct negotiations.

Obama’s Middle East diplomacy, central to his outreach to the Muslim world, has been complicated by the flotilla incident.

Abbas’s meeting with Obama took place a week after Netanyahu cancelled talks in Washington and rushed home from Canada to deal with the crisis sparked by the flotilla raid.

Netanyahu’s visit had been billed as a fence-mending session to move beyond discord over Jewish settlement construction on occupied land.

Obama has little room to manoeuvre. With U.S. congressional elections looming in November, he must be mindful that support for Israel is strong among U.S. lawmakers and voters.

Abbas arrived from Turkey, a U.S. ally that has condemned Israel’s action and curtailed ties with it. Abbas has called the raid a “massacre.” Israel said its commandos defended themselves when attacked during the boarding.

Aide: Abbas says no need to quit peace talks



June 1, 2010

RAMALLAH, West Bank – An adviser to Mahmoud Abbas says the Palestinian president sees no need to quit indirect Mideast peace talks over Israel’s interception of a Gaza-bound ship.

The killing of nine pro-Palestinian activists in Monday’s Israeli raid has raised concern that U.S.-led efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal could be disrupted.

Abbas met late Monday with senior PLO officials to assess the situation. Abbas adviser Mohammed Ishtayeh says Abbas told the group there is no need to quit the negotiations since the Palestinians are talking to the U.S. and not to Israel.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli commandos rappelled down to an aid flotilla sailing to thwart a Gaza blockade on Monday, clashing with pro-Palestinian activists on the lead ship in a botched raid that left at least nine passengers dead.

Bloodied passengers sprawled on the deck and troops dived into the sea to save themselves during several hours of hand-to-hand fighting that injured dozens of activists and six soldiers. Hundreds of activists — many of whom were apparently Turkish — were towed from the international waters to Israeli detention centers and hospitals.

International condemnation was swift and harsh as Israel scrambled to explain how what was meant to be a simple takeover of a civilian vessel went so badly awry.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly canceled a planned meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington to rush home. The global reaction appeared likely to increase pressure to end the embargo that has plunged Gaza’s 1.5 million residents deeper into poverty.

Most of the information about what happened on the single ship where violence broke out came from Israel, which cut off all communication to and from the activists and provided testimony and video evidence that its soldiers came under attack by activists armed with metal rods, knives, slingshots and two pistols snatched from the troops.

Passengers reached at an Israeli hospital and journalists aboard the ship accused the soldiers of using excessive force. One passenger, who identified himself as American, spoke briefly with reporters.

“I’m not violent. What I can tell you is that there are bruises all over my body. They won’t let me show them to you,” he said before he was pushed away by a security escort.

A soldier identified only as a sergeant told reporters at a military briefing that the activists on board “were armed with knives, scissors, pepper spray and guns.” He said he was armed only with a paintball rifle. “It was a civilian paintball gun that any 12-year-old can play with,” he said. “I saw my friends on the deck spitting blood.”

The high-seas confrontation was a nightmare scenario for Israel, which insisted its soldiers were simply unprepared for what awaited them on the Mavi Marmara, the ship carrying 600 of the 700 activists headed for Gaza. Instead of carrying their regular automatic rifles, the Israelis said they went in with non-lethal paintball guns and pistols they never expected to use.

Israel intercepted the six ships carrying some 10,000 tons of aid for the isolated seaside territory, which has been blockaded by Israel for three years, with Egypt’s cooperation. The Israeli government had urged the flotilla not to try to breach the blockade before the ships set sail from waters off Cyprus on Sunday and offered to take some aid in for them.

Israel has allowed ships through five times, but has blocked them from entering Gaza waters since a three-week military offensive against Gaza’s Hamas rulers in January 2009.

Key regional ally Turkey withdrew its ambassador on Monday, the U.N. Security Council held an emergency session, the British foreign secretary demanded an end to the blockade of Gaza, and Jordan called Israel’s raid a “heinous crime.”

An al-Jazeera journalist delivering a report before Israel cut communications said Israel fired at the vessel before boarding it. In one web posting, a Turkish television reporter on the boat cried out, “These savages are killing people here, please help” — a broadcast that ended with a voice shouting in Hebrew, “Everybody shut up!”

Al-Jazeera said that eight staff members were detained while covering the story, and asked for the Israeli government to release them immediately.

The military said naval commandos descending from a helicopter onto the deck of a Turkish-flagged ship were assaulted by armed activists. Military footage showed activists swarming around the commandos as they rappelled from a helicopter one by one, hitting them with sticks until they fell to the deck, throwing one off the ship and hurling what the military said was a firebomb.

Speaking alongside the Canadian prime minister, Netanyahu expressed “regret” for the loss of life but said the soldiers “had to defend themselves, defend their lives, or they would have been killed.”

Activists said Israeli naval commandos stormed the ships after ordering them to stop in international waters, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) from Gaza’s coast.

A spokeswoman for the Free Gaza movement, which organized the flotilla, said the group’s goal — beyond just bringing supplies to the impoverished territory — was to shatter the blockade.

“What we’re trying to do is open a sea lane between Gaza and the rest of the world,” Greta Berlin said in Cyprus. “We’re not trying to be a humanitarian mission. We’re trying to say to the world, ‘You have no right to imprison a million and a half Palestinians.'”

Israel’s international image had already taken a beating from allegations that it committed war crimes during its 2008-2009 winter war in Gaza, and from widespread global opposition to the blockade. Hamas was also accused of rights violations in that conflict.

Relations with Turkey, a key supporter of the aid flotilla but also until recently Israel’s staunchest ally in the Muslim world, were badly damaged by Monday’s events, possibly irreparably. Ankara announced it would recall its ambassador and call off all military exercises with Israel. Around 10,000 Turks marched in protest.

At the U.N., Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called the raid “murder conducted by a state” and demanded an immediate Israeli apology, international legal action and an end to the blockade.

The bloody showdown came at a sensitive time for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Netanyahu had hoped to receive a high-profile expression of support from Obama after months of strained relations over Israeli settlement construction.

Obama voiced “deep regret,” over the raids, and the White House said he and Netanyahu agreed by phone to reschedule White House talks. The U.S. recently began mediating indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians following a 17-month breakdown in contacts.

Israel’s immediate concern on Monday was what to do about the boats and their passengers. It ferried the wounded to hospitals by helicopter and towed the six ships to port, giving each of the activists a choice of deportation or detention.

By late Monday, about 150 of the activists — most from Turkey — had been taken off the boats, Israeli Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said, adding the process would continue into Tuesday. She said about 30 had agreed to be deported, and the rest would be detained.

A commando who spoke to reporters on a naval vessel off the coast, identified only as “A,” said he and his comrades were taken off guard by a group of Arabic-speaking men when they rappelled onto the deck. He said some of the soldiers were stripped of their helmets and their pistols and some had jumped overboard to escape the violence.

A high-ranking naval official displayed a box confiscated from the boat containing switchblades, slingshots, metal balls and metal bats.

Turkey’s NTV network showed activists beating one commando with sticks as he landed on deck. Dr. Arnon Afek, deputy director of Chaim Sheba Medical Center outside Tel Aviv, said two commandos were brought in with gunshot wounds. Another had serious head wounds, Afek added.

At Barzilai hospital in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, a few activists trickled in under military escort, claiming they had been beaten during the assault.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Israeli “massacre” and declared three days of mourning across the West Bank.

Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the rival Hamas government in Gaza, condemned the “brutal” Israeli attack and called on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to intervene.

Ban condemned the violence.

“I am shocked by reports of killings,” he said. “It is vital that there is a full investigation to determine exactly how this bloodshed took place.”

After nightfall, Hamas-linked militants fired a rocket that exploded in Israel, the militants and the Israeli military said. Nobody was hurt. The militants said the rocket attack was in response to Israel’s raid on the flotilla.