RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel must agree to the idea of a third party guarding the borders of a future Palestinian state before direct peace talks can start.
In a newspaper interview published on Saturday, Abbas said Israel must also agree in principle to a fair land swap that would compensate the Palestinians for West Bank land absorbed by Jewish settlements in any peace deal.
The remarks were the clearest statement yet of what Abbas wants from Israel before he agrees to move to face-to-face negotiations that U.S. President Barack Obama is pushing for.
Obama’s Middle East envoy George Mitchell met Abbas on Saturday in Ramallah. Mitchell, who met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, is mediating indirect peace talks that have been under way for more than two months.
There was no immediate comment from Israel on Mitchell’s latest meetings or Abbas’s remarks to the Jordanian newspaper al-Ghad, which were also published by Palestinian media.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Abbas, said Mitchell’s meeting in Ramallah had not achieved the breakthrough that would allow direct negotiations. “We have yet to reach the stage of going into direct negotiations but the American efforts continue,” he said.
Mitchell described his meeting with Abbas as candid and productive. The United States recognized “the difficulties and the complexities” in trying to realize the vision of comprehensive Middle East peace set out by Obama, said Mitchell.
“But we are determined to continue,” he said, adding that he would visit several other countries in the region. Obama, who met Netanyahu in Washington last week, has urged a resumption of direct talks by September.
After years of fruitless negotiations with Israel, Abbas has been wary of sitting down with an Israeli leader he doubts is ready to make the Palestinians an acceptable offer. He has so far resisted U.S. demands for direct negotiations.
But with Netanyahu having agreed to direct talks, resisting a new wave of U.S. pressure will be difficult for Abbas: the United States is a major backer of the Palestinian Authority he leads from Ramallah.
Clarifying what he wants before a move to direct talks, Abbas told al-Ghad that Israel should agree “in principle” to a third party taking on a security role in a future Palestinian state to be founded on land occupied by Israel in a 1967 war.
“Now what is required from Israel is for it to say that these ideas are, in principle, acceptable,” he said. “That means: do they accept that the land is the 1967 borders and that there be, in the Palestinian land, a third party. If they agree to that, this is what we would consider the progress that we want and that would make us go to direct negotiations.”
The Palestinians aim to establish their state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as their capital, a demand rejected by Israeli leaders who see all of Jerusalem as their capital. Abbas has rejected any Israeli security role on the frontiers of the Palestinian state. But he has accepted the idea that NATO forces could be stationed there, a compromise to ease Israeli concerns that the Palestinians would arm themselves heavily if they controlled their frontiers.
Israel, however, wants to maintain a presence in the Jordan valley along the West Bank’s eastern border.
Before direct talks, Abbas said, Israel must also agree to the idea of a fair land swap, referring to a scenario where some Israeli land bordering the West Bank would be annexed to a future Palestinian state in compensation for major Jewish West Bank settlement blocs that would become part of Israel.
Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta; editing by David Stamp