Hope for Two-State Solution 'Beginning to Erode': Abbas

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Agence France-Presse

Hope for Two-State Solution 'Beginning to Erode': Abbas

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at the Brookings Institution Thursday. A day after meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House, Abbas said the stagnation of the peace process had left some Palestinians unconvinced that a separate Palestinian state alongside Israel was even possible. (Photo by Paul Morigi)

WASHINGTON –
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas warned that lack of progress toward
Middle East peace was eroding faith that a two-state solution could end
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A day after meeting with
President Barack Obama at the White House, Abbas said the stagnation of
the peace process had left some Palestinians unconvinced that a
separate Palestinian state alongside Israel was even possible.

"I would like to express concern that the situation is very difficult," he said in remarks at a Washington think-tank.

"The
hope for a two-state solution... I fear, is beginning to erode and the
world is starting not to believe, to distrust, that we are able to
reach this situation."

Abbas is in Washington hoping to advance
fragile indirect peace talks that the United States spent months
arranging but which have been imperiled by a deadly May 31 Israeli raid
against an aid flotilla seeking to break the blockade on Gaza.

The
raid ratcheted up regional tensions and forced Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel a trip to Washington intended to publicly
repair US-Israeli relations that were strained by Israel's refusal to
halt settlement activity.

The incident, which left nine activists dead, sparked international condemnation and calls for an inquiry.

Israel
has defended the raid as necessary to uphold a blockade on the Gaza
Strip and says it will conduct its own, limited investigation into the
incident.

Abbas said any inquiry must be international, echoing
US comments that an international component would be "essential" to
ensure credibility.

"The investigation should not be left in
the hands of Israel. Israel cannot investigate itself," Abbas said,
accusing Israeli commandos of having "attacked innocent people who had
no weapons or aggressive motivations."

The United States has
declined to directly condemn Israel for the attack, but Obama warned
Wednesday after meeting Abbas that the situation in Gaza, withering
under the years-long blockade, was "unsustainable."

Washington is eager to prop up fragile first steps towards negotiations in the form of US-facilitated indirect talks.

Obama
said Wednesday he believed "significant progress" was still possible
before the end of the year, and pledged to devote the "full weight" of
US diplomacy to advancing peace talks.

Abbas told him that "time is of the essence," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.

"That's
his message, we need to see genuine movement in the direction of a
two-state solution and ending the occupation," he said.

The
Palestinian leader also cautioned Thursday that signatories to the Arab
League peace initiative, which promises diplomatic recognition in
return for Israeli withdrawal from territory it occupied in 1967, were
losing patience.

"We have long discussions with those who are
frustrated and tell them that we cannot take it off the table because
it's the only call for peace, the other option is war and we do not
want war," he said.

Obama reasserted his commitment to the
peace process Wednesday and said the flotilla incident could even serve
as "an opportunity to create a situation where lives in Gaza are
actually, directly improved."

He pledged to work with Israel
and the international community to find ways to ease the blockade and
announced 400 million dollars in new aid for the Palestinians, saying
it was a sign of "our commitment to improve the day-to-day lives of
Palestinians."

Abbas met later Thursday in Washington with
senior administration officials and lawmakers, including Senator John
Kerry, who said he backed the shuttle diplomacy between Israel and the
Palestinians being undertaken by US envoy George Mitchell.

"We
are very supportive of the process that's currently being pursued, the
proximity talks. A lot of us would like to see those talks move to
direct talks as fast as possible and we're very anxious for progress,"
said Kerry, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Erakat said the talks were "very good."

"They
want president Abbas to stay the course. They don't want him to
despair. They said they are doing everything to help us," he said.

Abbas is to meet with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday.

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