Abbas charm offensive but Erekat hostile

As America prepares to present the Israelis and Palestinians with the framework for an agreement it hopes will guarantee peace talks for the rest of the year, the Palestinian leadership has embarked on a combined charm-threat offensive.

While President Mahmoud Abbas has talked of concessions in a series of interviews and meetings with Israelis, his chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, has separately announced that the Palestinian Authority is preparing a barrage of law-suits if the talks fail.

Mr Abbas’s latest engagement with Israelis was in Ramallah where he met Israeli students, wishing them shalom aleichem.

He told them there was no reason to divide Jerusalem in a future peace agreement and insisted: “We can set up a Palestinian city hall in East Jerusalem opposite the western city hall and have a body above them to supervise. No reason for walls and barriers.”

But he refused to countenance any division of sovereignty around the Temple Mount in the Old City and said Jews would be given full freedom to worship at the Western Wall.

Regarding the Palestinian claim to a right of return he said: “There is a need to solve the refugees issue but we don’t want to drown Israel in refugees,” and that “no side will force upon the other a solution”.

He also reiterated his previous proposal that the new Palestinian state be demilitarised and the security on the Jordan border be provided by foreign peace-keepers, probably from Nato.

At the same time, in an interview with al Jazeera at Oxford University, Mr Erekat threatened that, if the US initiative fails, the Palestinian Authority will officially join the calls for economic sanctions of Israel and serve international courts with lawsuits against the country.

Mr Erekat also vigorously opposed the Israeli intention of extending the talks beyond the originally scheduled nine months, insisting that “the talks will not continue one minute after April 29”.

Last updated: 6:45pm, February 20 2014