Adam Gonn
Xinhua (Analysis)
June 11, 2012 - 12:00am

Palestinian National Authority ( PNA) President Mahmoud Abbas said he might be willing to hold talks with Israel, if it frees Palestinian prisoners and allows for weapons to be transferred to Palestinian security forces.

Abbas said that, since Israel has rejected both his previous demand to halt settlement construction on the West Bank or accept the cease-fire lines that existed prior to the 1967 war as the borders for a Palestinian state, he might be willing to attend talks if the new demands were meet.

However, Abbas maintained that Israel needs to comply with the old demands before full negotiations can be resumed. Israel has in the past rejected these demands, citing them as preconditions for talks.

However, Abbas' remarks were quickly rebuffed by officials within his own Fatah party and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), who said the comments should not be seen as opening the door to new negotiations; that will only happen once Israel halts construction.

"It was an attempt on Abbas' part to convey a message that he willing to soften his terms and conditions in order to resume the negotiations with the Israelis," Prof. Bassem Zbeidi, of the Birzeit University, told Xinhua on Monday.

"In the past he was taken to the point of a complete stop of Israeli settlements; now he is basically moving one step down," Zbeidi added.

Ever since direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations came to an halt in September 2010, when Israel's self-imposed ten-month freeze on settlement construction ended, Abbas has repeatedly said that negotiations will not resume until the freeze is reinstated.

Israel said the halt was a onetime offer and that only in its last month were the Palestinians willing to meet for negotiations.

Zbeidi argued were Israel to comply to the prisoner release demand, Abbas could use the victory as a justification to his constituency that the Palestinians have to talk to the Israelis.

While in the past the idea of Abbas resuming negotiations without a settlement freeze would have been political "suicide," Zbeidi said that in Palestinian public opinion polls today, talks with Israel are not the man in the street's top concern.

"The number-one priority of a majority of the Palestinian people is really how to make a living at this point, and to bring a sense of unity between Gaza and the West Bank, and (only) afterwards they think dealing with the Israelis will make sense," Zbeidi said.


Prof. Galia Golan, of the collegiate Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, said that Abbas is definitely looking for a way to break the logjam before the American elections in November.

"Even before this, there was some mention on Abbas' part of maybe having a prisoners release instead of demanding settlement freeze," Golan said.

However, she added, that there are also quite a number of differences of opinion in the PLO today about how far Abbas should go vis a vis Israel, because there are many people in the PLO -- and possibly in Fatah, as well -- who thinks that Abbas is not taking a strong enough position.

While the prisoner demand has been made in the past, Golan said reliable sources had told her that the PNA is very concerned about a possible outbreak of violence. She pointed to what she said were very sporadic incidents, adding that they were a barometer of peoples feelings and a cause for concern.

"On the one hand, people want Abbas to take a very firm position against violence; on the other hand, there are those pressing him and saying that he isn't taking a firm enough position on negotiations," she said.

Adnan Damiri, spokesman of the PNA security apparatus, told Xinhua on Sunday that the security coordination between Israel and the PNA in the West Bank has been declining over the past two years, and that the stalled peace talks are the main reason behind this decline.

Damiri added that the weapon that Abbas requested were not coming from Israel, but rather provided by friendly Arab states. In any case, Israel has not allowed for them to be transferred to the PNA.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for the negotiations to be resumed and recently indicated that his demand that Abbas recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people does not have to be made before the negotiations start, but rather during the course of them.

"I don't think that Netanyahu would agree to weapons but he might agree to a prisoner release," Golan said, adding that if he were to do so, "the real question is if that would be sufficient for Abbas."

The bottom-line, she concluded, is that if Abbas were to give up the settlement freeze, negotiations could conceivably resume.


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