Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas: Impossible to reach settlement of any principal Mideast problem without Russia‘s participation
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas signals readiness for compromise and praises Russia’s role in settling conflict in Middle East in an exclusive interview with InterfaxQuestion: Mr. Abbas, it is obvious that negotiations between Palestine and Israel are in a deadlock. What steps Palestine is ready to take to bring the negotiating process out of crisis? What demands are you putting forward for the negotiations to be resumed? Will you insist, in particular, on the lifting of economic sanctions by Israel?
Answer: We have expressed our readiness to resume the talks on the condition that Israel is true to its obligations to release a fourth party of prisoners jailed prior to the Oslo agreement. Another issue [requirement] is the termination of any settlement activities for nine months.
Parallel to this, talks can be held on all other issues of final settlement - these are issues of Jerusalem, refugees, security, settlements and others. As concerns the lifting of the Israeli economic blockade, this issue stands firm on the agenda of the negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.
Q.: It is known that Palestine insists on the liberation of Palestinian prisoners by Israel. If this happens, will Palestine stop its quite successful attempts to secure its recognition by the UN?
A.: There is an absolutely clear agreement between us and the Israelis concerning the release of prisoners who were put in jail before the Oslo Agreements: we would refrain from addressing international organizations for nine months in exchange for the release of these prisoners. But when the Israeli government cancelled this agreement, having not released the fourth group of prisoners, then we joined 15 international agreements and treaties. If Israel released these prisoners and resumed talks for a certain period based on a complete stop of any settlement activities, we might consider the possibility of postponing our address to other international treaties and organizations. Taking into account that we in fact are entitled to do this whenever we want to.
Q.: Is the possibility that the new Palestinian government may recognize the state of Israel under consideration now? What is the likelihood of such a scenario? What is your attitude toward the ‘two states two nations’ idea implying that only Jews would live in Israel?
A.: The new government is my government which is guided by my program, my position and my policy. I have reaffirmed on many occasions that this government will recognize Israel, it rejects terrorism and honors agreements signed with Israel and other states. The current government backs the idea of peaceful resistance and rejects violence. We are making a decision on the existence of two states, Palestine and Israel, which will live side by side with one another, in safety and stability; and we support the democratic idea that a state exists for all its citizens, regardless of faith, race or gender. We consider Palestine a state for all its citizens and believe that Israel must be a state for all its citizens.
Q.: How interaction is being maintained between Gaza and the West Bank following the signature of a peace agreement between Fatah and Hamas? Do you believe it would be easier now to control the organizations shelling Israeli settlements?
A.: After the latest agreement was signed for internal Palestinian reconciliation, the atmosphere in both Gaza and the West Bank has been positive. This government will be responsible both for the West Bank and for Gaza Strip, and will comply with the clauses of the reconciliation agreement, including one on preserving the current truce with Israel. The provisions of the agreement on mutual understanding are based on the premise that this Cabinet of ministers will be supported by all Palestinian political groups so that it could successfully perform its role in all areas.
Q.: Do you consider the possibility of including Hamas members in a Palestinian delegation in negotiations with Israel in case they are resumed?
A.: Negotiations are the Palestine Liberation Organization’s and its leadership‘s specialization, and the Hamas movement has still not been part of the PLO. If such a thing happens and Hamas undertakes the commitment to adopt the program of the PLO, which has ruled to hold negotiations with Israel, then there will be no political obstacles for Hamas members to take part in the negotiations as part of the Palestinian delegation, if they have enough experience and the necessary qualifications.
Q.: Will you run for president in the upcoming elections? If not, whom do you see as your successor?
A.: As of today, my decision regarding the participation in the coming presidential elections is negative despite the pressure being put on me. I believe there are many sons of the Palestinian nation deserving to be nominated for this position.
Q.: How far did the negotiations via U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s mediation move ahead before they were disrupted? What exactly could the parties have agreed on?
A.: The negotiations were stopped when Israel refused to honor its commitment on freeing a fourth group of Palestinian convicts from its prisons, following which we unilaterally joined 15 international treaties and agreements. Negotiations were regularly interrupted before, and most of the meetings took place between our and U.S. delegations, and then the U.S. delegation met with the Israeli one. We failed to make a breakthrough in the issues we discussed in nine months allotted for the negotiations. We started the negotiations with the aim of reaching a framework format of the solution, but we backtracked from this goal so that this should become a framework format for the negotiations. After that, we got entangled in a vicious circle, which drove us to a dead end. We wanted to delineate the borders from the very start, as this could have helped us eliminate a lot of obstacles in the negotiations. We were prepared to agree to discuss the security theme and proposed a realistic and reasonable form, but the Israeli side rejected it: they have rejected anything that we proposed. And the U.S., as we believe, has been satisfied with our position and with the fact that the Israeli government is responsible for the failure of the negotiations. In a word, there was the opportunity to reach an agreement on borders and security had Israel been interested in this.
Q.: There is the impression that the U.S. has assumed the role of the principal mediator between Israel and Palestine in the past months, while the Quartet on the Middle East has paled into insignificance. Do you share this view, and if yes, do you believe the Quartet should be involved in the peace process more actively?
A.: This is the right impression, and we value John Kerry‘s continued and insistent efforts to help the Palestinian and Israeli sides achieve the objectives they face. We have repeated on numerous occasions that the Quartet’s role as a collective body is of crucial significance in the peace process, proceeding from the basis on which the Quartet was set up and also proceeding from the decisions it has made and its position on the foundations for reaching a political settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation.
Q.: Do you think Russia’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and in the Middle East in general has changed over the past months, after the crisis in Ukraine started and Moscow’s relations with the West have worsened dramatically? Do you believe in Russia’s isolation on the international arena?
A.: Russia is a great country, and it cannot be isolated in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world. Russia has played an outstanding role in the Syria and Iran issues, and it has made a great contribution to the success of the Geneva and Geneva II conferences. It is impossible to reach a settlement of any principal problem in the Middle East without Russia‘s participation. We highly value Russia’s role in the Middle East and particularly Russia’s role at the present and in the future in resolving the Palestine problem.
Q.: Do you believe the time has come to convene an international conference for the Palestinian-Israeli peace process? If yes, what countries should take part in it?
A.: We have always supported the idea of convening international conferences for settling the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and we welcome the broadest possible participation of various countries in them in addition to the regional participants in these conferences. We believe that, as there are no prospects for settlement, there is an urgent necessity for convening an international peace conference, which should be attended by the U.S., Russia, Europe, UN, other influential countries, like China, and all countries that want to support efforts aimed at looking for a just and durable solution leading to the end of the Israeli occupation having lasted since 1967 and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with the capital of East Jerusalem, which would exist side-by-side with Israel in security and peace.
Q.: How is the investigation into Yasser Arafat’s death proceeding? Have any new findings emerged? When are the results going to be announced? Does Palestine need more assistance from Russian specialists?
A.: A special Palestinian commission investigating the causes of former President Yasser Arafat’s death is continuing its work with the aim of finding the party responsible for his death. This commission has received all possible support and attention from us, and we welcome any assistance to it from Russia. We hope the commission will finish its work in the near future.