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One of the options under consideration by the Palestinian Authority if peace talks fail is the dissolution of the government. (IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS)
One of the options under consideration by the Palestinian Authority if peace talks fail is the dissolution of the government. (IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS)

Patrick Martin

Setting borders first priority for Abbas Add to ...

The Palestinian leadership has issued a list of seven conditions for agreeing to extend peace talks with Israel.

The terms call on Israel to agree to outline the borders of a Palestinian state within the next three months, said Amin Maqboul, a senior Palestinian official, in addition to the usual demands for a halt to Israeli settlement construction and the release of a group of long-term prisoners held in Israeli jails.

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Establishing the future state’s borders is the No. 1 priority, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas told a visiting group of members of Knesset, the Israeli parliament, last week in Ramallah.

If negotiations are extended, the first three months of talks must be “devoted to a serious discussion of borders,” he is reported to have told the five members from the opposition Labour and Meretz parties.

The U.S.-mediated peace talks that began last July are scheduled to end on April 29. Any hope of them continuing appeared to be dashed after Mr. Abbas recently signed onto 15 international conventions. The Palestinian move, which Israel denounced as a unilateral effort to achieve international recognition contrary to the parties’ agreement to negotiate, came after Israel reneged on its agreement to release some 26 Palestinian prisoners by the end of March.

Since then, U.S. envoy Martin Indyk has held a number of emergency meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian chief negotiators looking for a way to continue the talks.

The news of the seven conditions, four of which are of less priority, came just a day after a report that Mr. Abbas was prepared to dissolve the governing Palestinian Authority and disband the Palestinian security forces should peace negotiations with Israel fail.

Mr. Abbas told the visiting Knesset members that Israel may as well have the burden of administering the territory since it retains the power of occupation.

“You don’t have to send tanks or use force,” he is quoted as telling the Israelis. “Just send a junior officer, a second lieutenant, and we’ll give him the keys.”

Mr. Abbas was at pains to point out to the Israeli delegation that the international conventions the Palestinians recently sought to join were ones that did Israel no harm.

“We joined the conventions on the rights of the child and the fight against discrimination against women,” he said. “We deliberately did not approach the International Court at the Hague or United Nations agencies.” Israelis are privately concerned that efforts at recognition may lead to the Palestinians taking Israel to the international court for alleged violations of the Geneva Conventions, one of the treaties to which Mr. Abbas did become a signatory.

News of the Palestinian demands came a day before a rare meeting between members of Mr. Abbas’s Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas called to advance a long-delayed effort at reconciliation between the two groups. The Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank is controlled by the PLO, of which Mr. Abbas is chairman, while the government of the Gaza Strip is run by the Muslim resistance group Hamas.

A senior Hamas official, Moussa Abu Marzouk, was seen crossing into Gaza from Egypt on Monday, while a West Bank delegation that includes senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad, was expected to arrive Tuesday in Gaza.

The parties are expected to discuss terms of forming a unity government and holding elections.

The PLO’s central committee is scheduled to meet Saturday and Sunday to decide on the fate of the Palestinian Authority, reconciliation with Hamas and negotiations with Israel.

While some Palestinians observers say all these various moves show Mr. Abbas’s determination to continue negotiations, the presence of Hamas in this latest equation is likely to be a red flag to the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, giving it a good excuse for terminating the talks.

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