Coming to Washington on the heels of a thorny, sour visit by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seemed determined today to show that he and his Palestinian Authority are not a problem but a part of the solution.
Abbas briefed a small group of Middle East policy shapers at a Washington area hotel. Attending were analysts at Washington think tanks, a couple of representatives of Arab-American groups and representatives of three pro-Israel organizations, including Americans for Peace Now.
At his meeting with President Obama tomorrow, Abbas will submit a Palestinian proposal for relaunching peace negotiations, he said. The proposal is based on the internationally sponsored Road Map and on the Arab League's Peace Initiative, he said. It attempts to "merge" the two and activate them. Abbas said that he shared his proposal with some dozen Arab governments, including Syria's government, and all were supportive. The proposal seems to echo President Obama's wish to engage Arab governments to support efforts to generate progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Abbas said he does not have pre-conditions for negotiations with the Netanyahu government, but noted that there is little to talk about if Netanyahu refuses to accept the two-state vision and to stop West Bank settlement activity. "What will we negotiate on," he asked. After all, Israel and the PA already cooperate on security and on economic matters. Abbas emphasized that even in the absence of political negotiations, he is determined to continue the PA's security cooperation with Israel in the West Bank, which he said is successful and serves both Israel's interests and the Palestinians'.
On the Hamas-Fatah dialogue, Abbas said that his proposal to Hamas is the formation of a national unity government of individuals who will comply with the international Quartet's conditions. The government as government will not have to comply, neither will Hamas as a movement, but all individual members of the cabinet will, he said. Hamas, according to the Palestinian president, is not willing to commit to such a formula.
Abbas said that he is determined to convene the Fatah general conference in Bethlehem this summer, despite the objections of many Fatah members in the diaspora to holding the conference under Israeli occupation. The meeting is supposed to introduce important reforms.
Abbas said that in negotiations with Israel, he has no intention to demand the right of return for all five million Palestinian refugees. He said he knows that this is a non-starter, that he will be accused of trying to demolish the state of Israel. "We don't want to destroy the state of Israel," he said. The refugee problem will be resolved through negotiations, he said. He pointed out that in his talks with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, there was agreement in principle on the way in which the problem would be resolved, but the two were in disagreement about the details.
Abbas's aides handed out photocopies of the ads they published several months ago in the Israeli press with a Hebrew translation of the Arab League's Peace Initiative. Tomorrow, he said, the Washington Post will run a similar ad in English. "It is a precious initiative," he said.
APN representatives in recent weeks met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, with special Middle East envoy George Mitchell, and are in ongoing close contact with senior Mideast policy makers at the National Security Council, at the State Department and at other branches of the Obama administration. APN is also in close contact with members of Congress and their staffers who handle U.S. Mideast policy.