RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinians are ready to end all historic claims against Israel once they establish their state in the lands Israel occupied in the 1967 Mideast War, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday, addressing a long-standing Israeli demand.
In an interview with Israel TV, Abbas also said that negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remain his preferred choice, but that he will consider other options if talks break down over Israel's continued settlement expansion.
Negotiations were relaunched by the Obama administration last month, but quickly faltered over Israel's refusal to extend a curb on Jewish settlement construction. Abbas says there's no point negotiating as long as settlements take over more land claimed by the Palestinians.
The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967. Israel has withdrawn from Gaza, but about half a million Israelis have settled in the other war-won areas.
Netanyahu wants the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and said last week he might extend a curb on settlement construction in exchange for such recognition. A 10-month-old moratorium on West Bank housing starts expired in late September, and Abbas has said he will not return to negotiations without an extension.
The Palestinians argue that it's not up to them to determine the nature of the state of Israel. Abbas noted that Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization recognized each other in 1993, saying this should be sufficient. Abbas heads the PLO.
However, in an apparent attempt to reach out to Israeli public opinion, he said that once the Palestinians have established their state in the 1967 borders, "there is another important thing to end, the conflict, and we are ready for that, to end the historic demands." He did not elaborate on specifically which demands he was relinquishing, but traditionally Palestinians have demanded the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homelands in Israeli territory.
Asked about options if talks collapse, Abbas said the Palestinians might turn to the U.N. Security Council to seek recognition of their state: "All the options are open, but we don't want to use all of them right now. We are focusing on resuming direct talks."
TALKS WITH HAMAS: Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel has resumed indirect talks with the Hamas rulers of Gaza about swapping hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for a captive Israeli soldier held for more than four years. Gerhard Konrad, the German mediator who has been working to broker a deal to bring home the soldier for about a year, has returned to the region, Netanyahu said. Staff Sgt. Gilad Schalit was captured in 2006.
AIRSTRIKE KILLS TWO: An Israeli airstrike in northern Gaza killed two militants Sunday. The Israeli military said its air force targeted a squad of militants preparing to fire rockets at Israel.