Palestinians Say They Would Negotiate with Sharon

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - The Palestinians would have no problem negotiating with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon despite his tough stands, the Palestinian Authority's chief negotiator said on Thursday.

He was responding to Sharon's comment that he himself would lead future talks with the Palestinians.

But the prospects of talks seemed far off on Thursday, as two Palestinians reportedly were killed in an Israeli helicopter strike shortly before British Prime Minister Tony Blair was due to arrive here from Jordan for talks with Israeli and PA leaders.

Blair, who is in the region to drum up support among Arab states for the U.S.-led war on terrorism, is hoping to prevent a further deterioration in the conflict between Israel and the PA. The recent assassination of an Israeli minister by Palestinian terrorists accelerated that deterioration.

Despite strong international pressure, Israel stood firm Thursday in the positions it took up around five PA-controlled cities following the minister's murder.

In Tulkarem, Palestinian witnesses were quoted as saying that helicopters had fired three missiles at a car in which three people were traveling near the border with Israel.

Radio reports said that two Palestinians had been killed and a third captured as Israeli commandos entered immediately following the helicopter strike. They had been on their way to carry out a suicide bombing attack, the reports said.

The army had no immediate comment on the action.

The Israeli army killed six Palestinian militants on Wednesday, including two Hamas activists and four other gunmen in separate attacks and a raid on an Islamic Jihad stronghold in a West Bank village. The army said its actions had prevented two imminent suicide bombing attacks.

Blair Visit

Blair who will meet with Sharon and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in Jerusalem and later with PA Chairman Yasser Arafat in Gaza, is arriving here on the eve of the 84th anniversary of the British Balfour Declaration.

Palestinian parliament speaker, Ahmed Qreia, called on Blair to correct the mistakes made by the British in the Balfour Declaration, which paved the way for the creation of a Jewish state here.

Qreia was not available to comment further on what he wanted the current British prime minister to do.

In 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour expressed "sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations" and stressed that "His Majesty's Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."

Two weeks ago, Blair came out in favor of the establishment of a Palestinian State.

Speaking in Riyadh on Wednesday after meeting with Saudi leaders, Blair said that his country sought "security for Israel, justice and equality of treatment for Palestinians and a Palestinian state."

"Those two fixed points are the basis for proper negotiations," he said.

Sharon To Lead Future Talks

For now, negotiations are deadlocked due to the violence. Sharon has said that he will not negotiate with the Palestinians "under fire."

Nevertheless, at some future date, Sharon told some 600 members of the World Jewish Congress on Wednesday, that he himself would head Israeli talks with the Palestinians.

"I'm going to lead the negotiations, because I believe in them," Sharon said.

As one who "had the merit to participate in all the wars and battles of the state of Israel for so many years," Sharon said, he could better understand the value of peace than "many of the politicians who speak about peace, but have never had that [wartime] experience."

Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the Palestinians would welcome talks with Sharon.

"We've been calling for Mr. Sharon to join us in political negotiations unconditionally," Erekat said in a telephone interview on Thursday.

Erekat said that to his knowledge, Sharon himself was still prohibiting Israeli-PA talks. "We hope that Sharon lifts the ban on negotiations," he added.

Peres and Sharon met on Wednesday evening to discuss the possibility of the foreign minister meeting with Arafat at an economic conference in Majorca on Friday, where both leaders will be in attendance.

Peres said he had not been forbidden to meet with Arafat but nevertheless no negotiations would take place.

"I am not going to meet Arafat now to negotiate peace," Peres said in a radio interview on Thursday. "The problem is not the meeting but rather the drama around the meeting."