RAMALLAH, West Bank – Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas urged President Barack Obama on Saturday to impose a Mideast peace deal, signaling the Palestinians' growing frustration after nearly two decades of failed negotiations with Israel.
Palestinian officials have said privately that they believe only strong U.S. intervention can break the impasse with Israel. Still, Abbas' blunt public appeal Saturday was unusual.
In a speech to leaders of his Fatah movement, the Palestinian president noted that the Obama administration has defined the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel as a strategic U.S. interest.
"Since you, Mr. President and you, the members of the American administration, believe in this, it is your duty to call for the steps in order to reach the solution and impose the solution — impose it," Abbas said. "But don't tell me it's a vital national strategic American interest ... and then not do anything."
The traditional U.S. position has been to act as a mediator, while treating Israel and the Palestinians as equal partners who in the end must make their own decisions. Critics have said this approach does not take into account the imbalance of power — that Palestinians live under Israeli military occupation.
Earlier this month, The Washington Post quoted Obama administration officials as saying the president is considering proposing an American peace plan for the Mideast. Since then, however, top U.S. officials have reiterated the traditional view that the U.S. can help, but that the final decisions lie with Israelis and Palestinians.
The U.S. has tried in vain to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that broke down in December 2008. The two sides remain far apart on the framework for such talks, and White House envoy George Mitchell returned to the region Friday to try to narrow the divide.
The U.S. has proposed indirect talks, with Mitchell acting as a go-between. However, the Palestinians say they won't engage unless Israel agrees not to start new housing projects for Jews in traditionally Arab east Jerusalem, the sector of the city claimed by the Palestinians as a future capital. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected a building freeze in east Jerusalem.
In his speech Saturday, Abbas also dismissed the idea of establishing a Palestinian state within temporary borders.
He referred to recent proposals for such a provisional state, but did not elaborate. He said the Palestinians were being asked to "take a state with provisional borders on 40 or 50 percent, and after that we will see."
But he stressed "we will not accept the state with temporary borders."
An Israeli newspaper reported earlier this week that Netanyahu made such a proposal.
However, Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh and an Israeli government official both denied that Israel formally presented the idea. The Israeli official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the diplomatic contacts.
A Palestinian state with provisional borders is part of the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan as an interim step toward full independence. The temporary state would only be established on parts of the territory the Palestinians want for their state. However, the road map never got off the ground and the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected provisional statehood, fearing the temporary borders would become the final ones.
In the Gaza Strip on Saturday, Israeli gunfire wounded two Palestinians and a woman from Malta who were among a group of protesters marching toward the border with Israel, according to Palestinian health official Moawiya Hassanain.
The military confirmed the shooting, and said soldiers opened fire to get protesters away from the border fence. Israel has declared areas of Gaza near its border to be no-go zones, citing security concerns.
In recent months, farmers and foreign supporters have frequently marched toward the border to protest the restrictions.
The injured foreigner was identified by fellow activists as Bianca Zammit of Malta. "They had no reason to shoot us. We posed no threat to them whatsoever," Zammit told AP Television News from a hospital bed.