Khaled Abu Toameh
The Jerusalem Post (Analysis)
February 2, 2010 - 1:00am

If anyone sought proof that President Mahmoud Abbas was planning to return to the negotiating table with Israel in the near future, it was provided by the results of “public opinion” polls published in the past few days by a number of Fatah-controlled media outlets and an interview he gave to Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

The polls are seen by many Palestinians as an attempt to prepare local public opinion for the possibility that the Palestinian Authority will soon resume the stalled peace talks with Israel.

One poll went as far as claiming that 65 percent of the Palestinians living under Hamas in the Gaza Strip support the resumption of the talks and believes in peace with Israel.

In the interview with the Guardian, Abbas hinted that he was inclined to accept the latest proposals from the US regarding the resumption of negotiations with Israel. Abandoning its previous demand for a total and unlimited cessation of settlement construction, Abbas said a three-month suspension would be sufficient to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat explained that Abbas’s new stance stemmed from his conviction that the Israelis and Palestinians would be able to reach agreement on all final-status issues, such as Jerusalem, refugees, water, settlements and borders, within three months.

The assessment that Abbas would agree to the resumption of the talks was reinforced on Monday when the PA president announced, following a meeting in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said that the Palestinians would return to the negotiating table if Israel “halted settlement construction” and accepted the 2003 road map for peace in the Middle East.

Abbas did not repeat his earlier condition for a complete and unlimited cessation of construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Nor did he repeat his previous demand that the international community recognize the June 4, 1967, boundaries as the future borders of a Palestinian state.

Since Israel has already suspended settlement construction in the West Bank and has no objections to the road map, Abbas will have no problem justifying a decision to resume the talks.

Later this week, he is scheduled to give his final response to the latest “ideas” presented by US Middle East envoy George Mitchell regarding the revival of the peace talks.

PA officials have described Mitchell’s proposals as “positive,” saying they could pave the way for Abbas to start his descent from the tall tree he had climbed when he set a series of conditions for returning to the negotiating table.

According to the officials, the latest American “ideas” include placing additional territories in the West Bank under the exclusive control of the PA, the release of Fatah prisoners from Israeli jails and halting IDF “incursions” into PA-controlled communities.

The officials said that Abbas was under heavy pressure from the Europeans, Americans and some Arab countries to accept Mitchell’s proposals and resume the peace talks with Israel.

“The president wants to resume the peace negotiations, but he doesn’t want it to look as if he has succumbed to the pressure,” said one official in Ramallah. “The resumption of the peace talks needs to be done gradually and one idea is to begin with low-level or indirect talks between the two sides.”


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