Palestinian premier viewed as extreme on 'right of return'
The Jerusalem Post

April 8, 2003

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom expressed skepticism on Monday about the chances of reaching a peace agreement with Palestinian Authority prime minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas, saying he has an "extreme and uncompromising position" on the issue of Palestinian "right of return."

The US and Europe view Abbas as a type of "messiah" who is bringing a new glimmer of hope, Shalom said. However, Abbas will be judged by both Israel and terrorist groups according to his actions, he added.

Speaking after meeting with the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Shalom said if Abbas cracks down on terrorism, he will find in Israel a partner for "exhausting all avenues to reach peace."

Committee chairman Yuval Steinitz (Likud) warned against getting "overexcited" by Abbas's appointment so as to avoid giving legitimacy to figures who belong to the PA establishment who have not yet proved they deserve credit.

Shalom held a discussion with the committee on the Quartet's so-called road map for peace. He said it reportedly will be formally released after Abbas forms a government, on Wednesday or Thursday. It is also possible that Abbas may delay the formation of his government by another two weeks, he added.

According to Shalom, Abbas is determined to make his own appointments to the government, while keeping three Arafat loyalists Nabil Shaath, Yasser Abed Rabbo, and Saeb Erekat. At the same time, he is determined to replace the current interior minister, Hani Hassan, with Muhammad Dahlan, the former Gaza Preventive Security Service chief.

Shalom said Israel will insist that the US lead the peace process and not the Quartet, which also includes Russia, Europe, and the UN.
Although the road map has not been released, Shalom said the format of the plan is "problematic." He said Israel is serious about giving the road map a chance, but won't be able to go along with a process in which it has to make concessions while Palestinian terrorism continues. "There cannot be two parallel tracks of terrorism alongside negotiations," he said.

Shalom told the committee that the Palestinians must fight and stop terrorism and fulfill other basic commitments as a condition for Israel carrying out what is asked of it in the road map. It must be a staged process, he said.

Labor Party leader Amram Mitzna attacked Shalom's positions, saying that making a halt to terrorism a precondition to talks means that "there will be no negotiations."

The road map calls for Palestinian statehood by 2005, with steps along the way to include the dismantling of unauthorized settlements, a halt to settlement expansion, and the establishment of a Palestinian state with provisional borders.