RAMALLAH: There can be no peace with Israel without first defining the borders of a future Palestinian state, President Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday.
“Since the creation of Israel, nobody knows what the borders are. We are determined to know our borders and theirs, without that there will be no peace,” he said as Washington’s nine-month deadline for reaching a peace deal expired, leaving the process in tatters.
In a televised address, Abbas laid out his conditions for returning to the crisis-hit peace talks with Israel which have made no progress since they were launched on July 29 last year.
“If we want to extend the negotiations there has to be a release of prisoners ... a settlement freeze, and a discussion of maps and borders for three months during which there must be a complete halt to settlement activity,” he said.
Meanwhile, a a senior Hamas official said yesterday that Palestinian unity deal will not lead Islamist group Hamas to recognise Israel’s right to exist and will not result in any Gaza militants coming under President Mahmoud Abbas’ control.
Veteran Hamas strategist Mahmoud Al Zahar said the group, which runs the Gaza Strip, was waiting for Abbas to form a unity government, but said the Palestinian leader was taking his time in an effort to overcome US and Israeli opposition.
Hamas, which is viewed as a terrorist group by many Western capitals, unexpectedly agreed with Abbas last week to lay aside old animosities and create a transitional cabinet paving the way to long-overdue elections across the Palestinian Territories.
The reconciliation accord angered Israel, which promptly suspended floundering peace talks with the Western-backed Abbas, saying it would not negotiate with any administration backed by Hamas.
Zahar, who is one of Hamas’s most influential voices, said Abbas only decided to seek unity because the US-driven negotiations were leading nowhere, but predicted he would take his time trying to assemble a government of technocrats.
“He is trying to overcome a great wave of pressure. We are waiting,” said Zahar, adding that Hamas had already handed across lists of names of possible ministers.
Hamas’ elder statesman, who has had spiky relations with the group’s leadership, said Abbas was using the unity deal to put heat on Israel, but that he was also worried by a US threat to suspend hundreds of millions of dollars in vital aid.
“He is seeking a guarantee that US financial support will continue,” Zahar said, speaking from his well-guarded house.
Looking to reassure Western allies, Abbas said the new government would recognise Israel and honour previous treaties. Zahar dismissed this as a hollow gesture, saying the ministers would be academics with no political authority.