Abbas says no state without Jerusalem, Gaza Strip

Erekat resigns over leaks

Inter-Palestinian reconciliation put on hold as Fatah calls for dialogue, general elections

Jordan urges Israel to give up mentality of stalling peaceful solution march

More sanctions to be slapped on Iran

National elections will not be held in the Palestinian territories if Gaza's Hamas rulers prevented Gazans from voting, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said.

"It is unreasonable to hold the elections in the West Bank alone, it must be in Gaza as well," Abbas said in a joint conference with visiting East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta.

Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) announced that presidential and parliamentary elections would be held by September, but Hamas, which won the parliamentary polls in 2006, rejected the announcement and said it doesn't recognize any elections before internal Palestinian split is resolved.

"The call for elections came to restore the Palestinian unity and so people can decide on the split," Abbas added. The division widened when Hamas routed pro-Abbas forces and took over Gaza in 2007.

Meanwhile, Abbas asserted that the Palestinian leadership will go ahead in its plan to get a resolution from the United Nations Security Council, condemning Jewish settlement and calling for immediate freeze of construction. The vote on the Arab draft resolution is set for, amid opposition by the United States.

Abbas reiterated that the Palestinians seek an independent statehood alongside Israel, based on the lands that Israel has occupied in 1967, with its capital in East Jerusalem.

Abbas voiced disappointment because the Quartet of Middle East peace mediators did not refer to the pre-1967 borders in its statement following its meeting in Munich earlier this month. The Quartet comprises the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations.

In September, Israel ended a 10-month partial moratorium on construction in the West Bank settlements. As a result, the Palestinians walked out of U.S.-brokered peace talks, which started in the same month.

Abbas noted that the Palestinians will return to the negotiations as soon as Israel freezes the settlement activities.

For his part, President Ramos-Horta said that settlement expansions "undermine confidence and raise the Palestinian side's doubts."

He added that the final boundaries of the Palestinian state, security, international and Israeli recognition of the Palestinian state are the key issues that should be dealt with.

Abbas stressed his leadership will never give up the Armenian area in East Jerusalem under any peace deal with Israel.

"The Armenian Quarter is an undividable part of East Jerusalem, which is the capital of the (future) independent Palestinian state, " Abbas said during a meeting with Christian leaders at his office in Ramallah.

The leaked documents published last month by Al-Jazeera satellite channel showed that Palestinian negotiators were ready to abandon the Armenian Quarter and the Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem's Old City as part of a peace settlement with Israel.

The Armenian Quarter covers about one-sixth of the area of the Old City, with an Armenian population of more than 2,500. There are also Armenian churches, monasteries, schools, restaurants and a museum in the area.

The Palestinian National Authority strongly denied the content of the documents Al-Jazeera published. The Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat resigned last week, saying the documents were leaked from his office.

Meanwhile, Abbas said the PNA will further support all projects that "preserve the Christian presence in Palestine," noting that the PNA and other "friendly" countries would sponsor a project to renovate Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians stopped in September 2010, when Israel resumed building Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Saeb Erekat, the longtime chief Palestinian negotiator who resigned after a massive leak of documents from his office, said that he did not leave because of the substance of the leaks but because they happened on his watch.

Excerpts from the documents released last month by the al-Jazeera satellite television channel showed Palestinian negotiators discussing significant concessions on the issues of East Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees during talks in 2008.

The revelations caused a storm of controversy among Palestinians and in the wider Arab world.

Erekat, whom al-Jazeera commentators accused of selling out to the Israelis and who is battling to preserve his reputation at home, said in an interview in his Jericho office that by stepping down, he wanted to set an example of accountability.

"When the most complicated, deep breach that ever happened in Palestinian national security history happened in my office, people expect me to go on with business as usual?" he said.

"I'm making myself pay the price for the mistake I committed, my negligence. These are the ethics and the standards. Palestinian officials need to start putting them in their minds."

Erekat said the documents had been illicitly obtained from the laptop computer of an employee in the Palestine Liberation Organization's Negotiations Affairs Department, which Erekat led. After a Palestinian investigative committee determined that the material was stolen from his office, Erekat said, he promptly stepped down.

He said he was pressing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has still not responded, to accept the resignation.

Al-Jazeera said it had obtained about 1,600 documents, including minutes of negotiating sessions and meetings that showed Palestinian negotiators offering to let Israel annex all but one of the neighborhoods it has built in East Jerusalem and discussing limited quotas for the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel.

The revelations, which ran counter to public Palestinian pronouncements, threw Erekat and other officials on the defensive. He said that the material had been presented selectively and out of context.

Still, Erekat said, the substance of the concessions did not come as a surprise to Palestinians because he had consistently outlined his negotiating positions in speeches, TV appearances and articles.

Erekat said he had talked about a Palestinian state along Israel's 1967 borders, with "minor and agreed land swaps" that would trade some Jewish settlements in the West Bank for land ceded by Israel. He said he had talked about a "just and agreed" solution to the refugee issue, meaning that any return of refugees would have to be acceptable to Israel.

"When I said to the Palestinian public that the swaps will include parts of Jerusalem, they know what I'm talking about," Erekat said. "When you say a just and agreed solution" to the refugee problem, he asked, "with whom do you agree? With the Chinese?"

Erekat, 55, a senior negotiator since the 1991 Madrid peace conference, was appointed head of the negotiations department in 2003. He said that he would continue serving as a member of the executive committee of the PLO and the central committee of the ruling Fatah party in the West Bank, but that he would no longer be "involved personally" in negotiations.

Leaders of various Palestinian political factions argued over when to hold new presidential and legislative elections on the Palestinian territories, as efforts to achieve a reconciliation between rival Fatah and Hamas had been stalled for more than three years.

Over the past several days, leaders of several factions in Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) held a series of meetings to discuss the proposal of holding the elections soon.

The proposal was supported by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement, but was opposed by Hamas movement, which says reconciliation and end of split should come first.

Amin Maqbool, member of Fatah movement's revolutionary council, told Xinhua the PLO factions began to seriously look for all the available options that ensure holding the elections "which is a constitutional obligation the Palestinian people have been waiting for."

"Therefore, it is unreasonable that the Palestinian people and the leaders of the factions keep restricted by the veto of Hamas, which prevents and blocks holding the elections, not only in the Gaza Strip, but in the entire Palestinian territories," said Maqbool.

Fatah movement's leaders and other faction leaders began their debates over when to hold the elections based on efforts to narrow the internal Palestinian rift. According to Maqbool, the elections must be held in all the Palestinian territories, including the Gaza Strip.

A senior Palestinian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Abbas had told members of Fatah revolutionary council that he intended to call for the elections to be held soon.

"President Abbas is expected to call for holding the elections soon, but he hasn't set up a specific date for holding it," the official told Xinhua, adding Abbas reiterated that he was not intending to run again for any elections.

The last parliamentary elections were held in January 2006, when Hamas movement defeated Fatah. The Presidential elections were held in January 2005, when Abbas was elected as the president after Yasser Arafat died in 2004.

The PLO Central Council, the minimized parliament of the PLO, decided to extend the presidential term for Abbas until the new presidential elections are held. Hamas legislative term ended in January 2010, but the Islamic movement rejected holding the elections.

The issue of when to hold the elections is linked to ending the splits and disputes between Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip since 2007, and Abbas and Fatah movement, which rule the West Bank.

Sources close to Fatah movement told Xinhua the demand for immediate elections has become urgent, adding that "all the parties, including Hamas, have to set and talk about preparing the ground for holding the elections."

Meanwhile, the Palestinian National Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad called two days ago on all the political Palestinian powers, including Hamas, "to start seriously thinking about holding the general elections in parallel with holding the municipal elections."

The Palestinian High Court of Justice decided last September to annul a decision of Fayyad's cabinet to postpone the municipal elections because Hamas opposes holding it in Gaza.

The cabinet decided this week that municipal elections have to be held and a date for holding it will be decided soon.

The Palestinians, however, are still afraid that if Hamas insist on not holding the elections in the Gaza Strip until reconciliation is achieved, the elections will be held only in the West Bank, a situation which would deepen the split between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Abdel-Rahim Mallouh, deputy chairman of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), told Xinhua it is better to elect the president by the Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza, "otherwise, we will have two presidents, one for Gaza and one for the West Bank."

"The idea of holding the elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip at the same time is still under the discussions of the Palestinian factions. The problem has to be resolved basically with Hamas movement, otherwise there will be no elections at all and the split will be stronger," said Mallouh.

Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas movement's spokesman in Gaza, told Xinhua Hamas movement rejects holding any elections before finalizing the conciliation and reaching an agreement on holding it. He insisted his movement will never recognize the results of any elections in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, Jordan's Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit told a senior U.S. official that Israel's obstinacy in Middle East peace talks could further anger an already volatile Arab public opinion, adding that he hoped Israel would give up its so-called "fortress mentality."

In a statement released after his meeting with Under Secretary of State William Burns, Bakhit said he told the U.S. official that "Israel should give up its fortress mentality and stop all unilateral actions, particularly the building of settlements."

"Israel should look forward to the future and realize that justice and the dignity of peoples are an indispensable issue and that the continued deadlock in the peace process will only enhance the anger of peoples in the region as a result of their feeling of an imbalance in the criteria of justice," said Bakhit, a former ambassador to Israel.

During his visit to Jordan, Burns also conducted meetings with King Abdullah II and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, in an effort to find ways of breaking the deadlock in the Middle East peace process.

According to Bakhit, they also discussed the latest developments in the region, a reference to the Egyptian uprising that led to the resignation of pro-West president Hosny Mubarak.

The Palestinian Authority withdrew from the U.S.-brokered direct talks with Israel at the end of September after the Israeli government refused to extend a partial freeze on the building of settlements in Palestinian East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Bakhit formed his cabinet earlier this week after King Abdullah sacked the government of former premier Samir Rifai. His firing followed a series of protests that swept the country, inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Bakhit had told the American envoy that his government had taken note of regional changes and "was taking measures to speed up political and economic reforms" and take serious steps to fight corruption.

King Abdullah also held a separate meeting with the Russian Middle East envoy Alexander Sultanov.

The United States imposed sanctions on Iran's Bank Refah for its ties with the country's proscribed weapons programs.

The US Treasury Department accused Bank Refah of providing financial services to the Iranian Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL) and the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company (HESA).

In recent years Bank Refah has helped MODAFL obtain millions of dollars' worth of weapons-related purchases, the Treasury department said in a statement.

"These purchases included missiles and tanks and enabled Iran's leadership to maintain its fighter jets and submarines. Bank Refah also facilitated payments from HESA to businesses and individuals linked to Iran's weapons-related procurement," the department said.

The two Iranian government entities are already under US sanctions. MODAFL, the arm of the Iranian military that oversees Iran's ballistic missile program, was designated by the State Department in October 2007.

The Treasury targeted HESA in September 2008 for being owned or controlled by MODAFL and for providing support to the Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The sanction was imposed under an executive order aimed at freezing the assets of proliferators of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and their supporters, cutting them off from the US financial and commercial systems.

"Treasury has now exposed and sanctioned 20 banks owned by the Government of Iran for supporting Iran's nuclear and missile programs or terrorism," US sanctions czar Stuart Levey said in the statement.

"The pervasiveness of this illicit conduct explains why legitimate financial institutions everywhere are deciding to shun Iranian banks."

The United States has stepped up its efforts to isolate Iran-linked commercial entities tied to its military development programs since the United Nations Security Council ordered a fourth set of sanctions against Iran in June 2010.

The UN acted after Iran refused to halt its uranium enrichment work, the most sensitive part of Tehran's controversial nuclear program that the US and others suspect is aimed at producing weapons.

Tehran denies the allegations, insisting it is only seeking to meet the energy needs of its population.

Tehran-based Bank Refah became the 20th financial institution targeted under Treasury regulations issued last August.

Under these regulations, Treasury may prohibit, or impose strict conditions on, foreign financial institutions, access to the US financial system for facilitating significant transactions or services for a financial firm sanctioned by the US over Iran’s WMD proliferation or support for international terrorism.

The Treasury noted that the European Union had imposed sanctions against Bank Refah in July 2010 for taking over Bank Melli's ongoing operations after the latter was sanctioned by the EU.