Abbas’ aide: Palestinians might unilaterally declare independence

By Xinhua

Ramallah : Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, warned on Wednesday that if the peace process doesn’t achieve progress this year, the Palestinians might unilaterally declare an independent state.

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“If the peace negotiations are still not moving ahead towards a permanent status agreement, the Palestinians will seek for declaring an independent Palestinian state unilaterally,” said Abed Rabbo, who is member of the Palestinian team of negotiations with Israel.

During his visit to the Middle East region in January, U.S. President George W. Bush expressed his hope that Israel and the Palestinians would reach a final agreement on final-status issues by the end of 2008 and establish an independent Palestinian state.

So-called final-status issues are the thorniest disputes between Israel and the Palestinians, which included control of Jerusalem, Palestinian borders, Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, Palestinian refugees, security and water resources.

Abed Rabbo accused Israel of obstructing the peace negotiations by expanding the Jewish settlements around Jerusalem.

“If the situation doesn’t go towards an actual cessation of settlements activities, and if the situation doesn’t go towards real and serious talks, we would unilaterally declare their independent state,” said Abed Rabbo.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) launched peace talks last December following a U.S.-host peace conference in the U.S. city Annapolis.

But the previous three rounds of talks had achieved nothing significant.

At the Annapolis conference, both the Palestinian and Israeli sides had vowed to implement the U.S.-brokered roadmap plan.

The first phase of the roadmap plan calls on the Palestinians to crack down on militants, while demanding that Israel halt Jewish settlement activity and uproot illegal outposts.