Palestinian leader makes appeal to Israelis in peace ad
RAMALLAH, West Bank - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas took his case for a peace deal directly to ordinary Israelis yesterday, assuring them in Hebrew-language newspaper ads that a withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza, and parts of Jerusalem would bring them full recognition by the Arab world.
The full-page ad, published in three Israeli dailies, spells out the trade-off first offered in a 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.
"Fifty-seven Arab and Muslim countries will forge diplomatic ties and normal relations with Israel in exchange for a full peace agreement and an end to the occupation," reads the ad framed by dozens of colorful flags of these countries. It reprints the text of the Arab initiative.
It was the first time a Palestinian leader tried to reach Israelis this way, said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat. He said Abbas felt ordinary Israelis do not know enough about the Arab offer and wanted to approach them directly.
"Not enough has been done to promote it," Erekat said.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians over the past year, welcomed the Arab peace plan as a positive gesture. But she said its positions on key issues such as final borders, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees are not acceptable.
"The Arab world understands what I say now. A peace plan is not put on the table by saying 'take it or leave it,' " Livni told Israel Radio.
Israel is holding separate talks with the Palestinians and Syrians and has acknowledged the Arab initiative as a useful starting point in negotiations.
The campaign comes at a troubled time for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. A year of negotiations has not brought tangible results, and Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu says he won't continue talks in the current format if he wins Feb. 10 general elections. Opinion polls give Netanyahu a strong chance of winning.
Many Israelis are also skeptical about a peace deal, in part because the embattled Abbas no longer speaks for all Palestinians.
He lost Gaza to the Islamic militant group Hamas in a violent 2007 takeover, two years after a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the territory. Gaza militants have fired thousands of rockets and mortars on Israeli border towns since the pullout, and Israelis fear a West Bank withdrawal could bring more attacks.