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Palestinians reject proposal by Israeli PM

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected an Israeli peace proposal because it does not provide for a contiguous Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, Abbas’s office said on Tuesday.

A Palestinian boy watches over camels in front in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim near Jerusalem August 7, 2008. REUTERS/Mahfouz Abu Turk

Nabil Abu Rdainah, Abbas’s spokesman, told the official WAFA news agency Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan showed a “lack of seriousness”.

Olmert’s proposal does not offer a solution to competing claims to the holy city of Jerusalem, and would only be implemented once Abbas reined in militants and re-established control of the Gaza Strip, which Hamas seized a year ago.

Under the proposal, Israel would give to the Palestinians some 92.7 percent of the occupied West Bank, plus all of the Gaza Strip, according to Western and Palestinian officials briefed on the negotiations.

In exchange for West Bank land that Israel would keep, Olmert proposed a 5.3 percent land swap giving the Palestinians a desert territory adjacent to the Gaza Strip.

Olmert’s proposal first emerged several months ago and was published in detail on Tuesday by Israel’s left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, prompting Abu Rdainah’s response.

“The Israeli proposal is not acceptable,” Abbas’s spokesman said. “The Palestinian side will only accept a Palestinian state with territorial continuity, with holy Jerusalem as its capital, without settlements, and on the June 4, 1967 boundaries.”

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Abu Rdainah was referring to the borders that existed prior to the 1967 Middle East war in which Israel seized Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt.

He called the Israeli proposal a “waste of time”.

Launched in November with the goal of reaching a statehood deal in 2008, the U.S.-sponsored talks have shown little outward sign of progress and have been marred from the start by violence and disputes over Israeli settlement building.

The chances of a peace deal faded further with Olmert’s announcement last month that he would step down as prime minister once his centrist Kadima party chooses a new leader in September.

Olmert spokesman Mark Regev declined to comment on any proposal, but said progress had been made in recent months, especially on the issue of borders.

“We are committed to continuing the effort to try to reach a joint Israeli-Palestinian document,” he said.

But another Israeli official said Olmert was merely trying to establish his legacy. “There is going to be no agreement, period,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior leader from Hamas, the Islamist group that routed Abbas’s forces to take control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, called the offer a “political test balloon” to ascertain the Palestinian reaction.

“Hamas will not busy itself much on this issue because the Palestinian people will never accept it,” Zahar said.

Reporting by Adam Entous in Jerusalem, Mohammed Assadi in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Adam Entous; Editing by Jon Boyle