Peace talks with Israel will continue for the full nine months as agreed with Washington “regardless of what happens on the ground”, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas told AFP on Sunday.
In an exclusive interview at his Muqataa headquarters in Ramallah, the Palestinian leader also called for an international inquiry to determine who was responsible for the death of Yasser Arafat after scientists said it was likely he was poisoned.
Speaking ahead of a key visit by French President Francois Hollande, Abbas reaffirmed his commitment to push ahead with the US-backed peace talks, despite a major upset over Israeli settlement building.
“We have committed to continue the negotiations for nine months, regardless of what happens on the ground,” he told AFP.
“We are committed and we will go to the full nine months, and then we will take the appropriate decision,” he said.
After months of intensive shuttle diplomacy by US Secretary of State John Kerry, Israel and the Palestinians finally agreed to begin direct talks in late July with the ambitious aim of reaching an agreement within nine months.
Abbas said his team of peace negotiators lead by Saeb Erakat, which collectively resigned three days ago over Israel's ongoing settlement activity, would remain in place for the time being.
“The delegation to the talks handed in its resignation which we have still not accepted. The Palestinian leadership is studying it and today they met to discuss it, but decided to take a little longer to make a decision,” he explained.
He also demanded an international inquiry to determine responsibility for the death in 2004 of Arafat following revelations by Swiss laboratory experts suggesting he was killed by polonium poisoning.
“We have indications that president Yasser Arafat did not die of old age nor of illness but that he died of poisoning,” he said, summarising conclusions publicised earlier this month by Swiss and Russian scientists who ran forensic tests on the veteran leader's remains.
“There are indications he was poisoned, so who poisoned him? And who sent the poison? This needs investigation,” he said.
“That is why we are demanding an international inquiry, like the one France demanded for (the murder of Lebanon's former premier) Rafiq Hariri, to discover who killed Yasser Arafat,” he said.
Arafat died at the age of 75 in a hospital near Paris on November 11, 2004 after falling sick a month earlier. Doctors were unable to specify the cause of death and no post-mortem was carried out.
Palestinian society has long given currency to the rumour that Arafat was murdered, with Israel the party most often blamed. But there has never been any proof.
Abbas: Peace talks to continue for full 9 months