The Envoy

Palestinian leader Abbas: Netanyahu speech offers “nothing we can build on”

The Envoy

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After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama each delivered high-profile pronouncements on how to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, one important party has been comparatively quiet on the subject: Palestinian leaders.

Today, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas weighed in on the proposed terms for a new accord--and expressed disappointment.

Speaking to the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Ramallah, Abbas said the vision Netanyahu outlined in his address to the U.S. Congress yesterday offered "nothing we can build on," Reuters Ali Sawafta reported from Ramallah, the West Bank.

"We said in the past, and we still say, that our choice is negotiation, negotiation and nothing but negotiation," Abbas told the Palestinian leadership. "But if nothing happens by September we will go" to the United Nations to seek statehood recognition. 

"Our aim is not to isolate [Israel] or to de-legitimize it," he continued. "It is not an act of terror and not a unilateral act."

Abbas said he would consult with Arab states over the weekend about the recent developments in Washington, according to the Reuters report.

Meanwhile, Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of rival Palestinian faction Hamas, helped demonstrate why Netanyahu insisted yesterday that he would not negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas.

Netanyahu's speech showed "the real face of occupation ... and the real face of arrogance backed by the Americans," Haniyeh said, according to  Reuters. "We must quit this illusion called negotiation."

It also appears that Israelis are experiencing some growing pessimism about renewed talks. Many analysts have suggested that Netanyahu had may have brought more clout to bear on the Washington establishment during his D.C. visit than Obama mustered for his call for Israeli-Palestinian border negotiations based on 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps. But within Israel, close observers of the peace process are saying that the prospects for a meaningful shift in the terms of discussion now look further away than ever.

"A cartoon in the centrist Yediot Aharonot newspaper summarized the concern," the New York Times' Ethan Bronner relayed from Jerusalem. "It showed Mr. Netanyahu's returning plane flying near a volcano. Inside the plane someone says, 'All in all, it was a very successful visit. From the volcano, smoke rises that spells out 'S-E-P-T-E-M-B-E-R"--referring to Palestinian plans to seek UN recognition for a Palestinian state in the fall.

"My fear is that this round of speeches in the United States may leave us and the Palestinians with a closed door," former Israeli Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter told Israeli Army Radio, Bronner's report continued. "I very much hope that the prime minister is returning with a plan."

(Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank city of Ramallah today: Majdi Mohammed/AP)

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