Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has warned Washington that lack of progress toward Middle East peace was eroding faith that a two-state solution could end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A day after meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House, Abbas said the stagnation of the peace process had left some Palestinians unconvinced a two-state solution was even possible.
“I would like to express concern that the situation is very difficult,” he said in remarks at a Washington think-tank.
“The hope for a two-state solution… I fear, is beginning to erode and the world is starting not to believe, to distrust, that we are able to reach this situation.”
Peace talks stalled
Abbas is in Washington hoping to advance fragile indirect peace talks that the United States spent months arranging but which have been imperiled by a deadly May 31 Israeli raid against an aid flotilla seeking to break the blockade on Gaza.
The raid ratcheted up regional tensions and forced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel a trip to Washington intended to publicly repair US-Israeli relations strained by Israel’s refusal to halt settlement activity.
The incident, which left nine dead, sparked international condemnation and calls for an inquiry.
Israel has defended the raid as necessary to uphold a blockade on the Gaza Strip and says it will conduct its own, limited investigation into the incident.
Calls for international inquiry
Abbas said any inquiry must be international, echoing US comments that an international component would be “essential” to ensure credibility.
“The investigation should not be left in the hands of Israel. Israel cannot investigate itself,” he said, accusing Israeli commandos of having “attacked innocent people who had no weapons or aggressive motivations.”
The United States has declined to directly condemn Israel for the attack, but Obama warned Wednesday after meeting Abbas that the situation in Gaza, withering under the years-long blockade, was “unsustainable.”
Washington is eager to prop up fragile first steps towards negotiations in the form of US-facilitated indirect talks.
Obama said Wednesday he believed “significant progress” was still possible before the end of the year, and pledged to devote the “full weight” of US diplomacy to advancing peace talks.
‘Time is of the essence’
Abbas told him that “time is of the essence,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told AFP.
“That’s his message, we need to see genuine movement in the direction of a two-state solution and ending the occupation,” he said.
The Palestinian leader also cautioned Thursday that signatories to the Arab League peace initiative, which promises diplomatic recognition in return for Israeli withdrawal from territory it occupied in 1967, were losing patience.
“We have long discussions with those who are frustrated and tell them that we cannot take it off the table because its the only call for peace, the other option is war and we do not want war,” he said.
Obama reasserted his commitment to the peace process Wednesday and said the flotilla incident could even serve as “an opportunity to create a situation where lives in Gaza are actually, directly improved.”
He pledged to work with Israel and the international community to find ways to ease the blockade and announced 400 million dollars in new aid for the Palestinians, saying it was a sign of “our commitment to improve the day-to-day lives of Palestinians.”
Abbas met later Thursday in Washington with senior administration officials and lawmakers, including Senator John Kerry, who said he backed the shuttle diplomacy between Israel and the Palestinians being undertaken by US envoy George Mitchell.
“We are very supportive of the process that’s currently being pursued, the proximity talks. A lot of us would like to see those talks move to direct talks as fast as possible and we’re very anxious for progress,” said Kerry, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Abbas is to meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday.