OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned that he would disband his Palestinian Authority if there was no Israeli movement toward renewing peace talks after Israel’s elections on Jan. 22, in an interview published in Haaretz Friday.
Abbas told the Israeli daily that if such a situation arose he would hand full responsibility for the occupied West Bank to the Israeli government.
“If there is no progress even after the election I will take the phone and call [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” Abbas said. “I’ll tell him ... Sit in the chair here instead of me, take the keys, and you will be responsible for the Palestinian Authority.
“Once the new government in Israel is in place, Netanyahu will have to decide – yes or no,” Abbas said.
Critics say Abbas is unlikely to follow through on the threat and may be using it as a pressure tactic.
This was not the first time that the Palestinian president had resorted to such threats, but the PA has found itself in a grave situation over the past few months due to an unprecedented financial crisis.
Following the interview, the head of Israel’s ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, ex-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, lashed out at Abbas, saying new peace talks would be possible only if he leaves office.
“Only after his disappearance from the leadership of the Palestinian Authority will it be possible to renew the diplomatic process,” Haaretz’s website quoted him as saying in a statement.
Talks between the two sides have been on hold since September 2010, with the Palestinians insisting on a settlement freeze before returning to the negotiating table and the Israelis insisting on no preconditions.
Following last month’s historic United Nations vote giving the Palestinians upgraded status in the world body Israel announced a new spate of settlement building in the West Bank and Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem.
In Thursday’s interview Abbas said that since then Israel had also reduced security coordination with Palestinian forces in the West Bank.
Israel’s military denied the charge, saying security cooperation continues.
Abbas said Israeli soldiers have started entering West Bank cities without Palestinian coordination.
Tayeb Abdel-Rahim, an Abbas aide, said Israel’s army detained 200 Palestinian officers in recent months, mostly for short interrogations.
Israeli defense officials responded Friday that soldiers enter Palestinian cities only when they think Palestinians are not providing enough support. They spoke anonymously in line with government regulations.
Abbas said he would be willing to renew negotiations with Netanyahu after the election but would demand that Israel freeze further settlement construction while they are being held, renew the transfer of Palestinian tax revenues that Israel has been withholding, and release some 120 long-term Palestinian prisoners.
“These are not preconditions, these are commitments Israel already took upon itself in the past,” he told Haaretz.
The PA was set up in 1994 with the return to Gaza after 27 years in exile of Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Under the Oslo accords on Palestinian autonomy, it was due to rule for a transitory period ending in May 1999.
Headed by Arafat, who died in 2004, then by Abbas, the Palestinian Authority has exercised executive and legislative authority and has theoretically been responsible for security in the West Bank.