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Abbas: Negotiations despite opposition
Ma`an News Agency
August 27, 2010

President Mahmoud Abbas said he would go to negotiations in Washington next week despite heavy opposition to the resumption of peace talks with Israel.

Speaking at an iftar meal honoring religious figures and diplomatic officials in Palestine, Abbas said he hoped Israeli negotiators would grasp what he termed the `current opportunity to achieve peace.`

His comments came hours after opposition parties held a conference in Ramallah to denounce the talks as unrepresentative. Organizers said the event was infiltrated by undercover Palestinian Authority intelligence officers, who incited participants to march in a rally which was then quashed by police forces as `illegal.`

Leftist and independent parties called on Abbas to condemn the police actions, and others announced their fears over freedom of speech.

`We are going to Washington to start direct negotiations under the US sponsorship and in the presence of the Quartet Committee Representative and with our national will because we want peace no matter how limited are the hopes,` Abbas said.

`If there is a one percent chance of achieving peace, I will follow it. I am convinced in this because we want to reach peace with our neighbors, this is why we are heading into direct negotiations and why we have to hope that we can reach a just and comprehensive peace.`

Addressing outrage from several corners over the US declaration that talks would go ahead `without preconditions,` a move quickly termed a bow to the Israeli position, Abbas said `we as Palestinians are not in a position to impose preconditions and no party has the right to set preconditions before heading to direct negotiations.`

Since 2008, when Israel launched its winter war on the Gaza Strip and Palestinian officials terminated the last round of talks with Israel, officials have called for a halt to settlement construction in areas beyond the 1967 borders in what would some day be a Palestinian state. Negotiators said the move was essential to prove that Israel was a willing partner in talks, following the deaths of more than 1,400 Gaza residents, and destruction of more than 6,000 homes during the last war.

Abbas continued, saying `I don’t know how they can say that Palestinians are setting preconditions on the settlements issue,` adding that the issue was already solved in bilateral agreements, like the Oslo Accords in the mid 1990s and the Road Map in 2000.

`Since the Oslo Accords, we agreed that no party should execute any unilateral act that could affect the final status negotiations,` Abbas reminded, adding, `this means Israel must not change the facts on the ground and we must not declare a state unilaterally.`

Officials in Washington and the EU have reportedly said that the idea of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state has gained ground recently, and donors continue to back PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad`s plan to create the infrastructure of a state by August 2011. Fayyad has said that a state could be unilaterally declared if talks fail.

`There is Palestinian opposition and it is legitimate and we have to respect it and every human being has the right to express his viewpoint with full freedom,` Abbas concluded, `we grant everybody freedom of expression and through democracy, we take our decision.`

Khaleda Jarrar, a candidate for Ramallah mayor with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine before Abbas called off the scheduled July elections, said that by quashing the conference where opposition parties were voicing dissent against talks, the PA was directly responsible for quashing freedom of expression.

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