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Abbas says Netanyahu offers no hope for peace
Wed, May 25 14:16 PM EDT
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By Ali Sawafta

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel was offering "nothing we can build on" for peace and that without progress he will seek U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood in September.

He told the Palestine Liberation Organization on Wednesday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to the United States Congress on Tuesday "travelled far from peace," dictating solutions before negotiations even begin.

Abbas told the Palestine Liberation Organization Netanyahu's speech to the United States Congress on Tuesday "travelled far from peace," dictating solutions before negotiations even begin.

He said he would consult Arab states at the weekend about U.S. President Barack Obama's latest ideas for restarting the peace process and Netanyahu's negative response to them.

"We said in the past and we still say that our choice is negotiation, negotiation and nothing but negotiation. But if nothing happens by September we will go (to the U.N. to ask for recognition by its 192 member states)," Abbas said.

"Our aim is not to isolate (Israel) or to de-legitimise it. It is not an act of terror and not a unilateral act."

Abbas's plan to seek U.N. recognition was criticised by both Netanyahu and Obama in speeches in Washington last week.

In a major policy speech, however, Obama said a future Palestinian state should be based on the borders as they existed on the eve of the 1967 Middle East, with land swaps mutually agreed with Israel.

Netanyahu swiftly rejected the proposal saying it would leave Israel with "indefensible" borders. But Abbas described the idea as "a foundation with which we can deal positively."

Palestinians and Israelis alike saw little prospect of a fresh start to stalled peace talks arising from Netanyahu's speech, despite its enthusiastic reception by Congress.

Netanyahu had pleased core supporters while offering nothing new, in the assessment of most Israeli commentators.

He won standing ovations for extolling Israel's democracy and military self-reliance while rejecting any Palestinian state based on Israel's pre-1967 borders.

He ruled out dividing Jerusalem and urged Palestinian Abbas to "tear up" last month's pact with the Islamist Hamas movement, promising to be "generous" with West Bank land if Abbas would make peace. But he pledged to keep control of the Jordan Valley.

Palestinians said it was a familiar offer of "leftovers" that could not divert them from seeking majority United Nations recognition of Palestinian statehood at the General Assembly.

Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh said Netanyahu's speech revealed "the real face of the occupation ... the real face of arrogance backed by the Americans."

"We must quit this illusion called negotiation," he said.

INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT FOR OBAMA

Obama, currently on a visit to Europe, has won international support for the principles he set out in a major policy speech last week to revive the moribund Mideast peace process.

Israel's daily Maariv published a poll showing about 57 percent of voters believe Netanyahu should have supported Obama's initiative, rather than opposing the president.

But the poll also showed Netanyahu was still Israel's most popular political leader.

"Netanyahu knows very well that the conditions that he set yesterday for a peace process are a complete non-starter," wrote Maariv's Ben Caspit.

"There is no Palestinian in the world who will accept them, there is no Arab state in the world that will support them, there is not a single person in Europe who will take them seriously, and they will only make Barack Obama angry."

(Reporting by Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Douglas Hamilton and Tom Perry; editing by Matthew Jones)


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