Abbas Hopes for Mideast Solution by End 2008

JAKARTA ~ Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said during a visit to Indonesia this week that he hoped to secure “a real solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis by the end of 2008.

The president is on a tour of key Muslim powers in Asia to drum up support ahead of a US-sponsored meeting with Israel expected by year-end, and was speaking after meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

“We are now in an intensive communication with Israel with the hope that we can form a document that can be accepted by both sides and by the international community,” he told a press briefing, speaking in Arabic.

He said the hope was that the document would “become a reference for future conferences, then there will be a negotiation with the Israelis and before the end of 2008 we hope there will be a real solution.”

Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have been trying to prepare the document ahead of an international meeting called by US President George W. Bush, expected to take place in Annapolis, Maryland by year-end.

The planned meeting has revived hopes of advancing the Middle East peace process that has been dormant since the eruption of a Palestinian uprising in 2000.

Abbas also said that the Islamist movement Hamas – “a part of the Palestinian people” – needed to be on side to help forge a successful future for the Palestinian state.

“But they also made a coup d’etat on the legitimate government and this action can divide and negate our efforts to find a solution … They should return to their origins and, to be honest, we cannot move except by working together within our internal country,” he said.

Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June after violently routing security forces loyal to Abbas.

The Palestinian president also said that Syria and Lebanon “both have land under occupation and should be included in international conferences,” without elaborating.

Yudhoyono said that Indonesia and South Africa – both currently holding non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council – as well as other Asian nations were planning a separate conference focusing on capacity building for the Palestinians, “so in the end Palestine can be a sovereign country.”

No date had been set for that conference, Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said.

Indonesia has been a staunch supporter of the Palestinian struggle for nationhood and has no diplomatic relations with Israel.

Abbas and Yudhoyono signed a joint declaration and five memorandums of understanding on a range of cooperation issues during their talks.

Abbas, who arrived here after a stop in Malaysia, also met with senior parliamentarians in closed meetings.

He told reporters afterwards that he believed Indonesia would attend the US talks and he hoped “that we have one united position, Arabs and Muslims, in order to find a solution for Palestinians.”

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