'Relaunch the peace process': Khalifa

The UAE president meets the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who is touring region and discussing the prospect of resuming 'proximity talks' with Israel.

May 2, 2010/ Abu Dhabi / Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, and H.E.Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan Minister of Higher Education attend the dedication of the new Palestinian Embassy in Abu Dhabi May 2, 2010. (Sammy Dallal / The National)
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ABU DHABI // Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, yesterday urged the international community to help relaunch the Middle East peace process. During a meeting in the capital with the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, Sheikh Khalifa emphasised the UAE's support for permanent peace in the region.

"We urge the international community to shoulder its responsibilities and relaunch the peace process, to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in the region," Sheikh Khalifa said, according to WAM, the state news agency. The two leaders also discussed the Palestinian conditions for the resumption of peace talks with Israel as well as the need for Palestinian reconciliation. Palestinian officials said yesterday that Mr Abbas was touring the region's countries to discuss with the leaders of Arab states the "proximity talks" with Israel.

His stop in Abu Dhabi yesterday also saw Mr Abbas attend the opening of the new Palestinian embassy. American efforts to push for indirect talks between Palestinians and Israelis were stalled in March when Israel announced plans to build 1,600 homes in Jerusalem during a visit to the country by the US vice president Joe Biden. Direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis were frozen after Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip in December 2008.

Mr Abbas is expected to meet today with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and tomorrow with the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, is due to travel to Egypt today to consult with Mr Mubarak on the latest peace moves. Israeli and Palestinian officials said yesterday they expected to start indirect peace talks within days. The Arab League on Saturday gave the green light to Mr Abbas to start such talks.

During a speech in Abu Dhabi at the inauguration of the new embassy, Mr Abbas said Arab nations have received guarantees from the US government that Israel would freeze the construction of settlements in the West Bank in order to start proximity talks. "We will return to negotiations for no longer than four months to discuss the borders, Jerusalem, security, settlements and other [issues]," Mr Abbas said yesterday. "These are final-status issues. If we reach a solution, we can reach peace with Israel."

He laid out the conditions for direct peace talks. "Israel should stop building settlements, stop its attacks against [Palestinian] areas, end its blockage of the Gaza Strip. These are vital issues for negotiations and for reaching a solution." He warned Israel that it would not be accepted as part of the region if it continued to occupy Arab lands and subject Palestinians to constant attacks. He also urged Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since the summer of 2007, to agree to a reconciliation document proposed by the Egyptian government to bring an end to Palestinian feuding.

"We should move rapidly towards the Palestinian unity at all costs," Mr Abbas said. "We have to realise that this is the most important way for us to regain our rights." "We don't want to give excuses to the Israelis and others who say 'Who should we talk to?' The world should understand that we are able to unite." Mr Abbas's inauguration of the new embassy came more than two decades after the foundation stone was laid.

The ceremony was attended by Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Higher Education, as well as by members of the diplomatic corps. The late Sheikh Zayed, the nation's founder, and the late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat had laid the foundation stone following the declaration of the state of Palestine on November 15 1988. But due to a lack of funding and political turmoil in the Palestinian territories, the embassy could not be built.

The old embassy building was originally used as the representation office for the Fatah Movement, and later for the Palestine Liberation Organisation, or PLO. In the summer of 2008, Sheikh Khalifa issued directives to fund the construction of the embassy with nearly Dh8 million (US$2.2m). The money made it possible to speed up construction, which had begun in 2007. The Dh14m complex includes a 1,200-square-metre embassy building and a 700-square-metre ambassador's residence as well as a multipurpose hall, according to Ammar al Kurdi, the embassy's spokesman.

Mr al Kurdi said the expanded size of the embassy would allow for an greater Palestinian role in the country, especially at the economic level. Palestine has embassies and representation offices in at least 90 countries, according to the website of the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The majority of the missions have the status of an embassy but many of them, especially those in western Europe, come under the name "Palestinian general delegation." Kuwait, Syria and the United States host PLO representation offices.

After Arafat's declaration of statehood during a meeting of the Palestinian National Council in Algiers, the UN's General Assembly acknowledged the state even though the Palestinians had no control over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The UN also changed the designation of the PLO General Assembly permanent observer to Palestine. The Palestinian Authority hosts diplomatic missions from 46 countries in the Palestinian territories, according to its foreign ministry