Thursday, April 29, 2010

Abbas: Obama, Mitchell Useless, Settlements Not So Bad

In an interview with Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq Alawsat, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas hints that he was making more headway with Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni than he is with Obama and Mitchell and that in reality, Obama insisting on a settlement freeze puts Abbas in an awkward position. He can't very well publicly say that a settlement freeze is not necessary in order to continue negotiations, but he tells Asharq Alawsat's journalists that in previous negotiations with Olmert, he was prepared to ignore the issue, at least temporarily.

And that's not all. This article is filled with fascinating tidbits about the insides of such a complicated negotiation. Here are some important parts and my take on them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Would it have been possible to reach an agreement with Olmert alone?
[President Abbas] I believe it would have been possible that I go up a little, and he comes down a little. It was possible to find a solution. He said that he would give me 100 percent.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] This is important and fundamental?
[President Abbas] He said 100 percent. He would take from this side, and I would take from that side. He presented maps to me. The maps included that he would take the settlements blocs (in the West Bank) in exchange for territories in the north, west, and south of the West Bank, in addition to territories to the east of Gaza.
So basically this is a territory swap he's talking about. Israel gets to keep the settlements they've built already and Palestine gets land that is not currently being used by anyone.

Wait. Not used by anyone? Don't we mean used by Palestinian residents of Israel? No.
[President Abbas] In a distant region (from the triangle region), because I explained from the beginning that I would not accept anyone (from the Palestinians of Israel). We were doing well. God is my witness, he was all right; he said to me: You will not find anyone other than me; and I said to him: But you will find someone other than me.
I guess Palestine has enough people. This brings a whole new angle to the argument about the Right of Return.
[President Abbas] Obama laid down the condition of halting the settlements completely. What could I say to him? Should I say this is too much? Moreover, halting the settlements is the second article of the Road Map, and it is something I want. At the end they blame me, and they say that the condition of halting the settlements was not on offer during the negotiations with Olmert. Bear in mind that at every meeting with Olmert the issue of the settlements was discussed.
And regarding Abbas' repeated threats to step down as president and his newest announcement that he will not seek re-election:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is not this decision tantamount to running away from the battle?
[President Abbas] Is the issue merely one of clinging to the chair? The chair does not matter to me.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] This is despite the fact that there is no alternative to you at this stage?
[President Abbas] It is wrong to say that there is no alternative. How can you say that there are 8 million Palestinians, but there is no alternative?
(Erekat [chief Palestinian negotiator with Israel]: I believe that the president did not say I do not want to be a candidate because he was scheming, maneuvering, or fed up).
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Or he might be sulking as he used to sulk in the past?
[President Abbas] No it is not sulking.
Hilarious. In what other situation would you find a journalist accusing a president of sulking during a private interview?

Moving along, Abbas says that Iran is standing in the way of a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas (the former rules the West Bank and that latter is in charge of the Gaza strip).
[President Abbas] Brother, they saw the Egyptian document before we saw it, they agreed to it, and then we signed, but they refused to sign. Why, because there are regional sides that do not want this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are these sides?
[President Abbas] Iran is the first one. This is indisputable.
And here Abbas idealizes a bit. I think the situations he refers to have improved in the past several years, but naturally he is overemphasizing his success at reform.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What can a Palestinian State offer?
[President Abbas] It can offer a democratic state that has equality and transparency. I challenge anyone to say that there was a single case of corruption in the Palestinian Authority in the past two or three years. I mean a single case of corruption.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this include political detentions?
[President Abbas] Or a single political detention.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this mean that all the detentions are not political?
[President Abbas] The detentions are carried out in cases of weapons, security, money smuggling, or money laundering. I challenge anyone to prove otherwise.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the issue of women?
[President Abbas] Women are equal to men. On every occasion we emphasize the need to advance women. The proof of this is that the Legislative Council has allocated a quota for women, whether the others like it or not; one of every three members of the Legislative Councils has to be a woman. This also applies to the local councils.
There is much too much in this interview for me to paraphrase everything, so I urge you to read the whole thing if you have an interest.

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