|“There is a wrong understanding of the government,” said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.|
Abbas defends unity government
But Palestinian leader says Fatah is still in charge
AMMAN, Jordan — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sought to defend his new unity government with the militant Hamas movement yesterday, saying criticism by President Obama represented a “wrong understanding’’ of the deal.
Abbas’s comments followed talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in the Jordanian capital and were noted in a royal palace statement. They were his first remarks on major speeches the US president delivered in recent days.
Last week, Obama outlined his policy on the Middle East, roiled by popular Arab uprisings, and endorsed Israel’s 1967 boundaries as the basis of negotiations for a future Palestine, allowing that they would be modified by land swaps.
It is unlikely that Obama’s new parameters are enough to restart talks, which have been on hold since 2008. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s initial reaction was dismissive and Abbas aides say there’s no point in talking unless Israel accepts the United States framework.
In an address to the nation’s largest pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in Washington last night, Netanyahu said Israel can only make peace with the Palestinians if they are prepared to make peace with the Jewish state, and his nation can’t return to the “indefensible’’ 1967 borders.
“Now more than ever, what we need is peace,’’ Netanyahu said. “Peace between Palestinians and Israelis is a vital interest for us, but it is not a panacea for the problems of the Middle East.’’
Hoping to revive stalled Israel-Palestinian peace talks, Obama addressed AIPAC on Sunday. He repeated a request that the Palestinians drop their plans to appeal for United Nations recognition and raised concerns about an emerging Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas.
Abbas said that there was a misunderstanding of the unity government with Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
“There is a wrong understanding of the government, that it is a power-sharing government between Fatah and Hamas,’’ he told reporters after talks with Abdullah.
Abbas, who heads the moderate Fatah faction, added: “The government is my government and it follows my strategies and policies.’’
Abdullah “affirmed’’ the national reconciliation agreement, according to the palace statement. He said the agreement presents a positive step toward uniting the Palestinian people and enabling them to regain their “legitimate rights to establish a state.’’
Palestinians hope the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation will end a split that has left rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians seek both areas, along with East Jerusalem, for their future state.
Israel has said a return to the 1967 borders would undercut its security.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the border issue should be the focus of Mideast diplomacy.
“Israel’s recognition of the borders of 1967 as the borders for the two states is the only way to achieve peace in the region,’’ he said. “The failure of Israel to do so would only mean that the peace process would be a waste of time and effort.’’
In his speech, Obama said no vote at the United Nations would ever create a Palestinian state.
The Palestinians hope to prove him wrong. But their planned bid for UN recognition this fall of a state in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem — territories occupied by Israel since the 1967 war — enters largely unknown legal ground.
By a strict reading of United Nations rules, an American veto at the Security Council — which appears probable — would seem to derail any attempt to win recognition of Palestine as a UN member from the General Assembly, where there is widespread sympathy for the Palestinian cause. Never before has the assembly taken on a new member state without a nod from the council.
But legal analysts say there may be ways to maneuver around that. The question is whether any declaration the Palestinians can wrest from the General Assembly would be a largely symbolic gesture or would be strong enough to win them valuable legal leverage against Israel’s occupation.
And at this stage, it is also uncertain whether Abbas will actually proceed with the UN option. He is to consult with leaders of the PLO and his Fatah movement tomorrow to consider his next move.
Dropping the UN bid would dash rising expectations among Palestinians that statehood will be declared in September.
Proceeding would risk confrontation with Obama, who laid out his parameters for a peace deal — including that it be based on the pre-1967 war lines, with agreed-upon land swaps — in hopes of getting the Palestinians to desist from unilateral actions.
Information from Bloomberg News was used in this report.