Abbas promises referendum on any deal with Israel
* Rejects pressure on confronting militants
RAMALLAH: Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has promised to hold a national referendum on any final status agreement with Israel, and criticised Israeli pressure on him to confront militants, the Palestinian government news agency, WAFA, has reported.
In a meeting in his office in Ramallah on Tuesday, Abbas also told a group of businesspeople, academics and public officials that the Palestinians “would not accept anything less than 1967 borders,” and should not be disheartened by large Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank, because there is a precedent for settlement removal.
Abbas’ comments on a possible peace deal with Israel come as the two sides struggle to advance from a shaky truce to fuller peacemaking under the internationally backed “road map” peace plan. The program stalled shortly after its June 2003 inception because the Palestinians failed to dismantle militant groups and Israel failed to halt settlement construction. Abbas, reiterating the Palestinians’ longstanding demand that Israel withdraw to the borders it held before the 1967 Mideast war, told his visitors that “settlement construction is illegal, east Jerusalem is occupied, and we will not accept anything less than 1967 borders,” WAFA said.
He noted that Israel dismantled its Yamit settlement in the early 1980s as part of its withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula under the Camp David peace accord with Egypt. “We should not be discouraged when we see huge settlements like Maaleh Adumim and Ariel and think that these settlements won’t be removed,” Abbas said. “A settlement in Sinai was removed in Egypt after Camp David, and it is possible now.”
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has made it clear that Israel intends to hold on to major West Bank settlement blocs, and over the past year, has received backing on this from the US In an April 2004 letter to Sharon, President George W Bush said that, given demographic changes on the ground, it would be “unrealistic” to expect any final peace deal to include a “full and compete return” of the West Bank.
Abbas has come under stiff pressure from Israel to curb Palestinian militants, but although his rhetoric has become fiercer recently, he is reluctant to confront them, for fear of provoking bloodshed. In the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, his police freed a Hamas militant who was seized with weapons and a rocket launcher in his car just minutes after militants fired rockets from northern Gaza at Israel in violation of the Feb. 8 truce. ap