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Agence France Presse

Palestinians Should Follow Kosovo Example: Negotiator

Nasser Abu Bakr

A senior Palestinian official on Wednesday called for a Kosovo-like declaration of independence in the absence of progress in talks with Israel but Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas insisted he will continue negotiating.0220 03

"Our people have the right to proclaim independence as the people of Kosovo did. We were occupied long before the Kosovo problem emerged," Yasser Abed Rabbo, one of the Palestinian negotiators, told AFP.

"Measures must be taken with a view to a unilateral declaration of independence as Kosovo did, and the world will then have to ensure the end of the occupation of our land," he said.

He pointed out that the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat symbolically proclaimed independence in 1988 but that "it never was applied on the ground as we wanted this to be done through negotiation."

"Today we want to unilaterally proclaim our independence on the ground and through peaceful means, and will call on our people to protect their state, borders, institutions and the future of their children," Abed Rabbo said.

Palestinians should consider this option as talks with Israel "have made no progress" since they were relaunched in November.

"Israel is seeking to gain time to grab more land and impose facts on the ground that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state with temporary borders, that is a truncated state in the West Bank," he charged.

Abbas distanced himself from the remarks. "We will continue negotiations aimed at a peace accord in 2008," he said in a statement.

"If that becomes impossible and we reach a deadlock we would refer to the Arab nation (world) so the decision is taken at the highest level," said Abbas, who on Tuesday held the latest round of talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a bid to advance the negotiations.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat also played down Abed Rabbo's comments.

"Independence is not just a declaration and the Palestinian cause is not like that of Kosovo," he told journalists. "As far as I know, the Palestinian leadership is not considering a unilateral declaration of independence."

Israel expressed surprise at Abed Rabbo's statement.

"This does not coincide with the position of the Palestinian leadership that is currently negotiating with Israel," foreign ministry spokesman Arye Mekel told AFP.

Kosovo on Sunday declared independence from Serbia, which vowed never to recognise the move.

Several countries including the United States and Britain have recognised Kosovo as a new state, but Israel has said it "will formulate its position later on."

"We will not be part of the first wave of countries that recognize Kosovo," said an Israeli official, who asked not to be named.

"We believe such issues should not be determined by unilateral steps but through negotiation," he said, warning of what he called "possible repercussions in this area".

The Gaza Strip and the West Bank, where Palestinians hope to establish their state, have been occupied by Israel since 1967 although Israel pulled out troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005.

© 2008 Agence France Presse

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