Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Abbas Threatens to Boycott Summit

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will not attend the US-hosted peace conference in November unless Israel agrees to reach an agreement with the Palestinians there, Abbas’ associates told Israeli daily Haaretz yesterday, adding the summit could “prove dangerous.”
The Palestinian sources were reacting to Olmert’s statement that Israel and the Palestinians will not present an “agreement of principles” on final status issues at the summit, but issue a joint declaration instead. “We are formulating a joint declaration to headline the regional meeting, should it take place,” Olmert told ministers from his party, Kadima, on Sunday.
“If Olmert says there’ll just be a declaration, it’s not worth going to this meeting in Washington,” said Nimr Hammad, an adviser to Abbas. In an unusual move, Abbas’ office issued a press statement reacting to Olmert’s statement.
In the statement, Abbas’ office did not refer to the possibility that Abbas would not attend. The statement did say, however, that the Palestinian Authority was seeking a structural agreement, and that a declaration of intentions would not suffice.
The statement called for a timetable and mechanisms outlining the implementation of stages of the permanent agreement. The statement also said that all issues of the permanent agreement — including jurisdiction on holy places, permanent borders and the question of Palestinian refugees — must be addressed in the agreement.
“We can live without the summit, but if it takes place and fails by producing nothing more than a joint statement, then it could prove to be dangerous for the whole region,” one of Abbas’ senior advisers told Haaretz. “We must not attend such a summit. We’re not demanding the resolution of the entire problem by then, but we are demanding a significant breakthrough from the meeting.”
At a media briefing in Jeddah last week, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal echoed the Palestinian demands. “If this conference will not discuss serious topics aimed to resolve the conflict, put Arab initiative as a key objective, set an agenda that details issues as required and oblige Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories, this conference will not have any objective and will turn into protracted negotiations.”
Western diplomats who recently visited the Kingdom told Haaretz that in their conversations with Saudi officials they got the impression that Saudi Arabia will not attend the summit. The sources say the Saudis think that a declaration of intentions is not sufficient justification for their attendance.
Meanwhile, Israeli officials said that they have quietly promoted Mahmoud Abbas from “Chairman Abbas” to “President Abbas” in an apparent effort to increase his stature both internationally and among the Palestinians. Last September, when Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni addressed the UN General Assembly, she referred to Abbas as chairman of the Palestinian Authority. When she addresses the body this year, she will — as she and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have been doing now for months — most likely refer to him as the president of the Palestinian Authority.
An Israeli government official said there is more at issue here than merely semantics. “The significance of the term ‘president’ is that it gives him greater esteem, both domestically and internationally. It is no secret that Israel is trying to bolster him, especially in contrast to the PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh,” the official said.

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