Abbas hopes for final agreement with Israel to be reached by year-end


Bethlehem : Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has expressed hope that a final peace agreement on major permanent status issues will be reached with Israel by the end of this year as envisaged by US President George W. Bush.

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Abbas was speaking at a joint news conference with visiting British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is currently on a two-day tour of the Palestinian territories and Israel, his first visit to the region since he took office in June 2007.

“We usually open all files and we seriously discuss each file of the permanent status issues with both Israel and the United States,” Abbas told the news conference. “I believe we need great efforts because we still have obstacles and I hope to remove them.”

Abbas recieved Brown at the presidential palace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem where both discussed the latest developments in the region, the peace process and the Palestinian-British ties.

For his part, Brown called for “justice” for the Palestinian people and condemned Israel’s settlement activities.

Brown said: “As a child, I learned about Bethlehem from the Bible as a symbol of peace and a symbol of hope. But today, the wall here is graphic evidence of the urgent need for justice for the Palestinian people and an end to the occupation and the need for a viable Palestinian state.”

“We want to see a freeze on settlements. Settlement expansion has made peace harder to achieve. It erodes trust, it heightens Palestinian suffering, it makes the compromises Israel will need to make for peace more difficult. So we are very clear — not just Britain but the whole of the European Union — what should be done,” he added.

Brown pledged more political and economic support to the PNA, reiterating that a strong and sustainable Palestinian economy is a key necessity for improving the political and security situation across the region.

He said Britain is now committed to delivering USD 60 million to the PNA, half of which would go directly to PNA budget, thus making Britain’s total aid to PNA budget “to USD 175 million”.

“Developing the economy would help to flourish the peace process,” Brown said, adding that his country “supports a peaceful solution based on establishing two states with Jerusalem as capital for the two peoples.”

He said: “I believe there is a will on the part of the international community, not just to do everything that we can to support the peace process, but to underpin that peace process with economic support for the Palestinian people.”