Let's Talk, Abbas Tells Reluctant Israel
Byline: By Joe Gower
Palestinian president Mah-moud Abbas yesterday called for Israel to return to the negotiating table during a speech marking the anniversary of what the Palestinians consider to be the "catastrophe" of Israel's creation.
Abbas also urged Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip to halt rocket attacks on Israel. He said the violence encouraged Israel to step up its military activity and proceed with unilateral plans to impose a border on the Palestinians.
"I tell our neighbours, the Israelis, that we want to make a just and lasting peace with you, and we want a better future for our children and yours. So come to make this year a year of peace," he said in a recorded speech broadcast on Palestinian television and radio.
Israel has said there can be no peace talks until the new Hamas-led Palestinian government renounces violence and recognises Israel's right to exist.
Abbas, a moderate from the rival Fatah movement, has been urging Hamas to soften its line, but so far been unsuccessful. His calls for Israel to resume peace talks have been rebuffed, and there was no word whether Israel would accept his latest offer.
"Let's stop the pretext that there's no Palestinian partner," he said in the speech. "The partner exists, and we extend our hand to you to make peace."
The speech marked "the Naqba," or "catastrophe," the term that Palestinians use to describe the creation of Israel 58 years ago.
Hamas has rejected the international community's calls to renounce violence, despite a crippling economic boycott that has left the government broke and unable to pay the salaries to tens of thousands of employees.
In his speech, Abbas signalled to Hamas that it must change its ways and pursue a path of diplomacy.
"The PLO, which led our people in its most difficult times, would not have survived until now, or received international recognition, had it not been forthcoming in formulating courageous political initiatives," he said. …