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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Abbas says no to state with provisional borders

Last update - 21:21 06/12/2007       
PA leader Abbas rejects concept of state with provisional borders
By The Associated Press
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday rejected the concept of a provisional Palestinian state, concerned that temporary borders of such an entity would become permanent.
Abbas told Palestinian lawmakers that during last week's Middle East summit in Annapolis, Maryland, the idea of a provisional state was brought up, but he turned it down - though it is a key part of the internationally backed road map formula for creating a Palestinian state.
In the meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Abbas also rejected talks with the Islamic militant Hamas unless it relinquishes control of Gaza first. Hamas overran Gaza in June, expelling forces loyal to Abbas.
Abbas said that at the Annapolis summit presided over by U.S. President George W. Bush, "there was talk about a state with provisional borders. We reject provisional borders, because these [borders] will be final."
In their joint declaration, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas agreed that the 2003 road map plan would be a basis for resuming peace negotiations. The first talks under the new framework are set for next Wednesday.
The second step of the three-stage road map states calls for creating an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and attributes of sovereignty. Creating temporary borders would allow the Palestinians to have independence, while giving the sides more time to work out contentious issues like the final status of disputed Jerusalem.
However, Palestinian leaders disowned the idea shortly after the plan was put forward, reflecting concern that the temporary borders would never be changed.
Israeli officials had no comment on Abbas' remarks.
Abbas told the lawmakers the Palestinians would not agree to a new demand that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Olmert made that demand shortly before the Annapolis summit.
Abbas said recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would negate the rights of 1.5 million Palestinians who live there, referring to Israel's Arab minority, which makes up 20 percent of its population.
Palestinian officials also believe the Israeli demand is aimed at blocking Palestinian refugees who lost their homes during Israel's 1948 independence from returning to their former properties.
The Palestinians says refugees have a right to return to their homes. Israel rejects that, since a flood of an estimated 700,000 refugees and their 3 million descendants would eliminate the Jewish character of their state. Israel says the refugees must be resettled either in the Palestinian state to be created or in the nations where they live now.
With negotiations set to begin after a seven-year freeze, Abbas would be unlikely to offer concessions on the key issues at this point.
Abbas repeated his view of reconciliation with Hamas, ruling out talks with the Islamic militants unless they give up control of Gaza.
Olmert and Abbas plan first post-summit talks
Meanwhile, Olmert met top advisers on Thursday to prepare for his first meeting with Abbas since the two leaders launched formal peace talks last week.
Olmert and Abbas are expected to meet on December 12 for the first round of talks since they agreed at a U.S.-sponsored conference to try to broker a deal on Palestinian statehood by the end of 2008.
An Israeli official said Olmert met Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to prepare their position before meeting Palestinian negotiators next week.
"The post-Annapolis process is going to start next week and it is clear that important preparatory work must be done so that the process can succeed," said Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev.
Senior Abbas aide Saeb Erakat, a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, said: "We intend to engage seriously to reach the end game of all the final status issues before the end of 2008."
The sides agreed at the conference in Annapolis, Maryland to discuss final status issues such as borders, the future of Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem.
Many observers think the 2008 goal is too ambitious given Abbas and Olmert are both weak, and big differences remain between the two sides on key issues.

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