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Abbas says negotiations can take place from where Olmert left off

Media reports claim that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has proposed negotiations with the Israeli government for a period of 6 months, during which the Israeli government would halt settlement building. Abbas also set a condition that the starting point of the negotiations should be the stage reached with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The intention would be to end up with an agreement on the so-called final status issues and Israel's withdrawal to the 1967 borders.

President Abbas was speaking at the session of the Arab Follow-up Committee being held in Qatar. "The [Middle East] Quartet hasn't done anything for a year or more," he said, "and we want to find a mechanism to move forward." Setting out what such a mechanism might entail, Abbas set out a six-month programme aiming at Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian and Arab territories, including Jerusalem, and the release of Palestinian prisoners as well as a halt to settlements. "If this happens, we might possibly have meaningful negotiations and would build on what we reached in Olmert's term of office."

In fact, Abbas called for starting where the talks with Olmert left off. "In that sense, there would be a full understanding on security, the borders and exchanges, Jerusalem and the refugees; no agreements, but understandings." The Palestinian Authority, he insisted, "won't accept a situation that takes us back to square one; where Netanyahu would tell us to forget about the refugees, or where he would say that he doesn't accept the security except when the Israeli army remains in the Jordan River for 40 years". If the Israeli Prime Minister wants to start from scratch and say what he wants, the PA will not accept it, said Abbas. "We believe that there are mechanisms that we rely on and we can put a time limit of six months to stop the settlement building, particularly in the E1 area, as well as to negotiate with Israel, building on what we had previously on the basis of the 1967 borders; we want to go back to the Road Map which implies an end to the occupation that began in 1967."

With regards to the Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel, Abbas pointed out that there was an agreement in 1995 which stipulated that the Israeli government should have released all prisoners who were arrested before 1993, "but they haven't been released".

Abbas also called for keeping the Arab Peace Initiative on the table: "The Arab initiative should stay on the table as it is the only Arab proposal to call for real peace." It backs Israel and the entire Western world into a corner and puts the onus on them, he added. "Quite simply, if Israel withdraws from all Arab and Palestinian lands, all 57 Arab and Muslim countries would normalise relations with it."

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