Palestinian leader rejects intl peace blueprint

Associated Press
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 66th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Friday, Sept. 23, 2011. (AP Photo/David Karp)
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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas strongly suggested Saturday that he would reject a peacemaking blueprint put forward by international mediators, saying he would not agree to any proposal that disregarded Palestinian conditions for the resumption of peace talks.

Abbas, who returned to the West Bank on Saturday after submitting a statehood bid at the United Nations a day earlier, told reporters accompanying him that he was still studying the proposal by the peacemaking Quartet — the U.S., European Union, United Nations and Russia.

But he appeared to tip his hand by saying "we will not deal with any initiative" that doesn't demand a halt to Israeli settlement construction or negotiations based on borders before the 1967 War when Israel captured land the Palestinians claim for their state.

The Quartet statement made no such demands.

Abbas dug into his positions after resisting heavy, U.S.-led pressure to abandon his bid to have the U.N. recognize a state of Palestine in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. His willingness to stand up to Washington has won him newfound respect at home, where he had been considered a lackluster leader. The unilateral bid for statehood and U.N. membership reflects deep-seated Palestinian exasperation over 44 years of Israeli occupation.

Israel has had no comment on the Quartet plan to resume long-stalled negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel, which mediators regard as the only way to establish a Palestinian state. Israeli leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the long-standing conditions Abbas has put forth, saying talks must go forward without imposing terms.

Netanyahu opposes negotiations based on 1967 lines, saying a return to those frontiers would expose Israel's heartland to rocket fire from the West Bank. And he says the fate of settlements should be left to negotiations.

The Quartet urged both parties to draw up an agenda for peace talks within a month and produce comprehensive proposals on territory and security within three months. Mediators aspire to a final deal within a year, but similar plans have failed to produce a peace agreement in the past, and this latest proposal offered no program for bridging the huge differences that have stymied negotiations for most of the past three years.

The Quartet plan was meant to rechannel to negotiations any momentum the Palestinians would gain from their statehood application. A U.N. nod would not deliver any immediate changes on the ground: Israel would remain an occupying force in the West Bank and east Jerusalem and continue to restrict access to Gaza, ruled by Palestinian Hamas militants.

But Palestinians are hoping that any upgrade in their international status would give them more clout in any future talks with Israel.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon relayed the Palestinians' statehood request to the Security Council on Friday, shortly after Abbas formally submitted it. It is expected to be shot down there, either because it won't win the required support of nine of the Council's 15 members, or because the U.S. will make good on its threat to veto it. The Security Council will meet Monday to deal with the membership request, but final action is likely to take weeks or months.

Washington has been lobbying hard to muster enough support in the Council to block the statehood application so the U.S. won't have to resort to a veto — something that would be frowned upon by the Arab world at a time when autocratic regimes are coming under assault there.

Abbas told reporters, without explaining, that he expected the Council to take action within weeks, not months. With Council support necessary to be admitted to the U.N. as a state, the Palestinians are expected to ask the U.N. General Assembly, where they enjoy broad support, to grant them a more modest status upgrade to nonmember observer state from permanent observer.

On board his plane, Abbas described himself as exhausted by the international efforts to wear him down but buoyant when he explained in a speech to the General Assembly why he had sidestepped the negotiating process that had been the cornerstone of international Mideast policy for nearly two decades.

The pressure "didn't affect our spirits to reach the target and to deliver the Palestinian message officially," he said.

Abbas noted, without elaborating, that some unspecified Arab states had also tried to pressure him to drop the statehood application.

Netanyahu, too, has been satisfied with the trip, and by the efforts of the U.S. and Western powers to resolve the longstanding conflict through talks, not international dictates.

"The hope is that the Palestinians will eventually understand that they cannot avoid entering negotiations," he told Israel's Channel 10 TV.

Talks for all intents and purposes broke down nearly three years ago after Israel went to war in Gaza and prepared to hold national elections that propelled Netanyahu to power for a second time. A last round, backed by the U.S., was launched a year ago, with the ambitious aim of producing a framework accord for a peace deal. But it broke down just three weeks later after an Israeli settlement construction slowdown expired.

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