What did Mahmoud Abbas really say?

Reporting from Italy today, where there is a big conference taking place attended by (among others) Israel’s President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Reuters says that Peres’ office issued a statement revealing that Abbas has remarked: “It appears as if we will not be able to reach full agreement on the issues of Jerusalem, borders, refugees and water by the end of the year … But we are determined to continue accelerated diplomatic negotiations concurrently with the change of administration in the United States”. The full Reuters report can be read here .

Haaretz, picking up material from the Associated Press, puts a somewhat different cast on the same story, reporting that “Israeli President Shimon Peres appeared side by side to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday at the Ambrosetti Forum, an annual gathering of global political and business leaders in an Italian lakeside resort. The two leaders … said that Israel and the Palestinian Authority are closer than ever to a peace deal. Abbas pledged to try to reach a final status peace agreement with Israel by the end of the year – but he admitted the goal, set by U.S. President George W. Bush, might not be achieved. Abbas also rejected the notion that he and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert might put forth a partial document outlining the areas in which they do agree and leaving open other issues – most notably, and most sensitive, the sharing of Jerusalem as a joint capital. ‘It is necessary for the agreement to address all … issues’, said Abbas. ‘It is all or nothing, really … We might not be able to reach a final status agreement by the end of the year [but] We will make all possible efforts’. Abbas said if no agreement was reached while Bush remained in office, ‘the new administration should not wait seven years for us to start negotiations … It should begin immediately as soon as a new president is in the White House’. Israeli President Shimon Peres, who has used his largely ceremonial role and his stature as an elder statesman to push peace efforts in the past, addressed the forum after the Palestinian President. ‘We have to try to reach an agreement’, Peres told the crowd. ‘We have to act on the supposition that it is possible’.” This report can be read in full in Haaretz here.