Abbas says not one issue resolved in Mideast peace talks

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RAMALLAH: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hit out at US-backed Middle East peace talks on Sunday on the eve of a White House meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President George W. Bush, saying that not one issue has been resolved.

He also pledged to call snap presidential and parliamentary elections in the New Year if there is no agreement with Hamas which controls Gaza to end the rift in Palestinian ranks.

“So far we have not reached agreement on a single question – every issue remains up for discussion, Abbas told a key decision-making body of the Palestine Liberation Organization under whose auspices the year-old negotiations with Israel are being held.

“Even if (US Secretary of State) Condoleezza Rice or someone speaking in her name says, even if (Israeli Foreign Minister) Tzipi Livni or someone speaking in her name says that there are agreements being prepared, it’s not true, he told the PLO Central Council.

The Palestinian leader accused Israel of failing to honor any of the undertakings it gave in November last year at the US-hosted conference which relaunched the negotiations.

Everyone knows that Israel has not for one moment halted the settlement construction, the building of the (separation) wall or the attacks, and nor has it allowed the opening of (Palestinian) institutions in (Arab east) Jerusalem, he complained.

By contrast, he said the Palestinians had made efforts which had produced results and brought security and stability to towns across the West Bank.

On her last visit to the region earlier this month, the US Secretary of State toured the once flashpoint West Bank town of Jenin, where Abbas security forces have deployed in force.

Rice described the town as a place of inspiration and ultimately a place from where the Palestinian state will spring out.

But the Palestinians complain that Israel has failed to keep to its side of the bargain with settlements in both Arab east Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank continuing to expand despite its commitment to suspend the construction.

Abbas comments came as the outgoing Israeli premier arrived in the United States for talks in which the slow-moving peace process is expected to take a back seat to Israeli concerns about Iran.

The Palestinian president stressed that he remains committed to Egyptian-brokered reconciliation talks with Hamas, which the Islamists walked out of earlier this month accusing his security forces of rounding up their supporters in the West Bank.

But he warned that if the talks fail to bear fruit, he will call snap elections in the New Year.

If the dialogue does not succeed, then at the start of next year we will issue a presidential decree calling parliamentary and presidential elections, Abbas said.

It was not immediately clear what powers Abbas, who is also PLO chairman, would use to dissolve parliament early. The Palestinian basic law does not give him that right as president of the Palestinian Authority.

Abbas s own term expires on January 8 and the Islamists had threatened to stop recognizing his authority from the following day.

Abbas read out to the PLO Central Council a draft agreement based on an Egyptian negotiating text which he said should serve as the basis for a new round of talks with Hamas.

The draft provides for the formation of a provisional government that is accepted by all the factions and which respects the program of the PLO.

The latter is a potential stumbling block for Hamas, which is not a member of the PLO and has never signed up to its acceptance of a two-state solution.

Hamas s own charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state and the formation of an Islamic state in all of historic Palestine, although it has expressed willingness in the past to agree a decades-long interim truce with Israel.

The draft read by Abbas also provides for reform of the security forces on a professional and non-partisan basis, another key issue between Abbas and Hamas who accuse him of stacking the security forces with his own loyalists, even after they formed a government following their 2006 election win. -AFP

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