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Abbas says Palestinian state `vital interest` for Israelis
By Daily Star staff
By Agence France Presse (AFP)
February 24, 2010

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday that the creation of an independent Palestine is a “vital interest” for Israel, while reiterating his refusal to enter talks unless Jewish settlement building ends.

“An independent Palestinian state is a vital interest for Israel,” the Palestinian Authority head said during exchanges with Belgian senators and deputies in Brussels.

“We all hope that a just and durable peace … in a state living peacefully with Israel,” could bring “peace and stability to the whole region,” said Abbas, who was set to meet EU President Herman Van Rompuy and Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme later in the day.

While seeing “no alternative to negotiations,” Abbas stressed that these could not begin “while Israel continues the colonization” of the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem through the building up of Jewish settlements.

Abbas also declared that the appeal by the EU in December for Jerusalem to become the future capital of two states, as part of a negotiated settlement, marked “the start of a political role” for the EU in the region. “I would like the US to adopt” such a declaration, he added.

Abbas singled out the “very good position” taken by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who has floated the idea of granting international recognition to a Palestinian state even before Israel has agreed on its borders. “However I can’t say that it reflects the French position,” he added.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who met Abbas in Paris on Monday, did not reprise his foreign minister’s remarks, calling them “an idea for the future.”

In related news, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was to travel to the US Tuesday for talks on curbing Iran’s nuclear program and reviving the Middle East peace process, military radio said.

Barak planned to meet several senior US officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell, the Defense Ministry said.

Barak was also scheduled to meet UN chief Ban Ki-moon in New York.

The ministry did not say what Barak would discuss, but military radio said the talks would focus on halting Iran’s nuclear drive, which Israel views as its greatest strategic threat.

On Monday, Premier Benjamin Netanyahu renewed his call for the international community to impose an oil embargo on Iran, if necessary without UN Security Council approval.

Western countries suspect Iran’s nuclear program is intended to produce an atomic bomb, despite repeated denials by Tehran, which said on Monday that it plans to start building two new uranium enrichment plants from March.

Israel, considered to be the Middle East’s sole, if undeclared, nuclear power, views Iran as its top enemy after statements by its President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the Jewish state was doomed to be “wiped off the map.”

Barak was also expected to discuss the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks suspended during last winter’s Gaza war.

Washington has been struggling for months to bring both sides back to the negotiating table, with the Palestinians refusing to hold direct talks without a complete freeze of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories.


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