JERUSALEM – Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly rebuffed President Obama’s request to support the contents of Secretary of State John Kerry’s framework proposal as a basis for working toward a final peace agreement with Israel.
According to Arab and Israeli media sources, Abbas steadfastly demanded that the White House prod Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into releasing convicted killers Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Sa’adat. He also reportedly insisted that Israel freeze all settlement construction activities in exchange for extending the peace talks until the end of the year.
The London-based Arab newspaper Al-Hayat said Abbas told Obama that the release of Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences for aiding and abetting in the murder of Israeli civilians, and Sa’adat, who organized the assassination of then-Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi in 2001, would help build confidence between the PA and Israel in the coming months. Israel is tentatively scheduled to release more Palestinian prisoners by the end of next week.
Abbas has been saying publicly that, “we don’t have any time to waste, as time is not on our side, especially given the very difficult situation that the Middle East is experiencing and the entire region is facing.” Meanwhile, media reports indicate that Obama and Kerry are pressing Abbas to be more flexible in his negotiations with Israel by telling him to “make the tough decisions that will be necessary in the weeks ahead.”
Al-Hayat also said that Abbas’s demands are based on his belief that Kerry’s framework proposal is part of agreed-upon “coordinated positions between the Americans and Israelis.”
Israeli newspapers reported several weeks ago that Netanyahu had tentatively agreed to Kerry’s framework proposals as a basis to extend the talks until the end of 2014. But recent statements attributed to Kerry distancing the U.S. from Israel’s key insistence that Abbas and the PA formally recognize Israel as a Jewish state has deflated hopes by Netanyahu and senior Israeli officials for a peace breakthrough. (Kerry’s supposed motivation is to thwart any attempt by Abbas to demand the return of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into Israel.)
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told a television interviewer earlier this week that he wished that the negotiations would yield some kind of deal but was pessimistic because of Abbas’s defiance.
Yaalon said, “The peace process is: we give and he [Abbas] takes. Based on this, I doubt we will see a peace agreement in my lifetime.” Israel’s chief peace negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, criticized his comments, but former Shin Bet chief Yaakov Peri – who has been a pro-peace advocate within Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party – also rebuked Abbas for his stalling tactics and inability to move the peace process forward.
Abbas’s demand for Barghouti’s release comes amid various Israeli TV reports of a power struggle between allies of exiled Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan, a former Palestinian peace negotiator, and Abbas, who wants Barghouti to succeed him as PA head. Abbas has accused Dahlan of trying to overthrow him and of being involved in Yasir Arafat’s death.