Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas set out preconditions Friday for returning to the negotiating table under the new Israeli government, reported Israel Radio. Abbas was delivering a speech commemorating “Nakba Day”, the Gregorian anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel, which Palestinians and other Arabs deem a “tragedy”.
According to the report, Abbas demanded a halt to all construction in Judea and Samaria, and the immediate release of prisoners, especially those, held since before the Oslo Accords in 1993, who had been slated for release in 2014. He also insisted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commit to negotiating for at least a year, during which a specific timetable for Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria by 2017 will be set.
Peace talks sputtered last April when Palestinians reneged on a commitment not to take unilateral steps by appealing to the UN for greater recognition, including applying to join the International Criminal Court (ICC). In turn, Israel cancelled a previously agreed-upon prisoner release. Israel finally withdrew from negotiations entirely when the PA signed a unity pact with Hamas.
On Thursday, prior to the swearing-in of the new Netanyahu government, Abbas, in a speech, blamed Israel for the scuttled peace talks, saying the previous government was not a serious partner for peace and had purposely hampered peace efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry. If the new government continues under similar policies, Abbas threatened, the Palestinians will continue to internationalize the conflict.
“The new Israeli government and its head Benjamin Netanyahu must choose between occupation and peace,” Abbas said, according to the International Middle East Media Center. “Should they continue the colonialist policies, we will resume our international activities, including the UN and the ICC, to end this illegal occupation.”
Abbas’s comments came on the heels of a speech at Camp David by US President Barack Obama, in which he noted the prospect of peace between Israel and the Palestinians “seems distant now.”
Obama congratulated Netanyahu on the formation of his new government, but noted the antipathy of some of his ministers towards the creation of an independent Palestinian state. “I know that a government has been formed that contains some folks who don’t necessarily believe in that [2-State] premise,” Obama said.