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Abbas Expects Peace Deal with Israel Within A Year
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said that a peace deal to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be achieved within less than a year, according to an interview published by Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz on Friday.


Abbas also had proposed to the US, a key Mideast peace mediator, and Israel to "open covert negotiations" for a final peace settlement, according to the report.


The talks would be spearheaded by US President George W. Bush after the new Israeli government was set up following the March 28 general elections, Abbas was quoted as saying.


Abbas also said that he had raised the idea at a meeting with veteran Israeli politician Shimon Peres, who is number two on the list of Israel's Kadima party tipped to win the coming elections, two weeks ago in Jordan.


However, Ha'aretz cited a senior Palestinian source as saying that the US had not responded to Abbas' suggestion to pressure the new Israeli government to abandon its unilateral policy and resume the peace process.


Abbas also stressed that the peace deal must be based on the Israeli withdrawal to the borders prior to the 1967 Middle East war, but added that he did not rule out territorial exchanges when asked if he would agree to a land swap as Israel keeps hold onto some Jewish settlements on the occupied Palestinian land.


In addition, Abbas said that the coming new Palestinian government led by the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) would not stop him from negotiating with Israel.


If the two sides reached an agreement, Abbas said, he would be the one to sign it and if necessary, would even put it to a referendum.


But the Palestinian leader, whose Fatah movement was defeated by Hamas in the January legislative elections, voiced concerns that Israel might not be interested in negotiations and thus avoid the talks under the pretext of having no Palestinian partner since Hamas, which publicly calls for Israel's destruction, is poised to control the government.


Abbas' call for secret talks toward a final peace deal has drawn Israel's doubts.


Israeli Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert blamed Abbas for failing to crack down on militant groups which he said led to Hamas' election victory.


Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev also questioned if Abbas was capable of achieving any agreement with Israel as Hamas is to head the new Palestinian government.


Olmert, who is at the helm of Kadima, has announced that he intends to unilaterally fix the borders with the Palestinians by 2010, vowing to avoid all contacts with the Hamas-led Palestinian government. 


Rejecting calls to renounce violence, recognize Israel and abide by interim peace deals, Hamas has decided to present the new cabinet to the parliament for a vote of confidence on Monday, just one day ahead of Israel's elections.


With an outright majority in the Palestinian legislature, Hamasis expected to win the parliament's approval.


(Xinhua News Agency, March 25, 2006)

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