Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with some 100 Israelis at his headquarters in Ramallah today and told them that Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu had informed him that he could not extend the settlement construction moratorium because such a move would lead to his government’s “collapse.”
Among those who took part in the meeting at the Mukataa compound were former Labor Chairman Amram Mitzna, Meretz Chairman Chaim Oron and former Meretz Knesset Member Zehava Gal-On, as well as Likud activists, senior reporters and even a number of ultra-Orthodox representatives.
During the meeting, which was organized by the Geneva Initiative, Abbas claimed that when he told Netanyahu he could not move forward in the negotiations without a settlement freeze, the Israeli premier presented a “list of excuses, and that was the end of it. It was our last meeting at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem.”
Abbas said that before the September summit in Washington, the Americans promised that Netanyahu would agree to continue the building freeze, but that that did not happen. The Palestinian leader also spoke of Ehud Olmert’s term, saying the former Israeli prime minister’s representatives refused to negotiate during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
Abbas told the visiting Israelis that the Palestinians had agreed to the presence of a third party, such as NATO, in their territory following the declaration of an independent state. Egypt and Jordan also agreed to this, the Palestinian leader said
“I am telling you this because we will not agree to return to the starting point of the negotiations and we cannot forgo the 1967 borders,” Abbas said.
He concluded on a personal note. “I have eight grandchildren, and I want them to live in peace and security. You see we have replaced a culture of violence and terror with a culture of peace. We don’t want any more bloodshed like what happened in Gaza yesterday.”
Mitzna, for his part, said “there are too many instances in which both sides try to prove to the Americans that the other side is to blame. The leaders must sit and talk.”
“I don’t represent the Israeli government and I have a lot to say about what the government is doing,” he said, “but this is not the time or place for criticism. The problem is that both sides don’t realize enough that peace is everyone’s interest.”
Talking to reporters in Ramallah after the meeting, Mitzna criticized the Netanyahu government’s conduct in terms of the peace process. “This government has taken us decades back.”
He clarified that he had a lot of criticism, but noted that he would make a decision on whether to return to the national arena “only in two or three months.”
“I have an urge to make a change, not just in the Labor Party but in the Israeli society as a whole, a change which I failed to make last time.”
Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran of the 20-year old peace process, said “there is a wall between us that is not just physical.”
According to Ashrawi, “If the majority of Israelis are in favor of peace, they should elect a government that supports peace. It’s not about leaning back and waiting for peace, but about making decisions. Abbas makes some unpopular decisions sometimes, but Israel says he is weak and it’s not clear why.”