Mahmoud Abbas poured a little cold water on remarks his aide made a few hours earlier about the potential for the Palestinians to follow the Kosovars into independence. Yasser Abed Rabbo told reporters that “Kosovo is not better than us,” and said that the Palestinian Authority could declare unilateral statehood at any time. Abbas didn’t dispute that, but rejected the idea … for 2008:
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ruled out on Wednesday any unilateral declaration of statehood in the near future, responding to an aide’s call to take the step if peace talks with Israel continued to falter. …
“We will pursue negotiations in order to reach a peace agreement during 2008 that includes the settlement of all final status issues including Jerusalem,” Abbas said in a statement.
“But if we cannot achieve that, and we reach a deadlock, we will go back to our Arab nation to take the necessary decision at the highest level,” he said, without mentioning any options.
The issue came up as the Annapolis agreements have done little to change the facts on the ground for either side. Israel continues to build settlements, while Palestinians continue to conduct attacks. The headline grabbers come from Gaza, where the hail of rockets continues to fall on Sderot, but militant activity also continues in the West Bank.
Rabbo made the original remarks as a rebuke to Ehud Olmert for the stall in the negotiations. He also demanded that the US and the EU recognize Palestinian independence as readily as both accepted Kosovo’s declaration this weekend. However, the PA declared its independence already, as Saeb Erekat noted; they did so as the PLO in 1988, which has been roundly ignored, even by the Palestinians. Since the intifadas and their overall failures, everyone has avoided talking about it in favor of a negotiated settlement that results in statehood, which all sides have promised as the eventual result of a legitimate peace process.
The problem is finding reliable partners for that peace process. The exit of Hamas from the negotiations may have made that somewhat easier, but neither side trusts the other to make the difficult decisions that will have to come. If Abbas can’t rein in his militants and Olmert won’t stop expanding settlements in disputed territories, then talks won’t matter at all.