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Abbas says peace deal possible within year

Written by: Staff
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JERUSALEM, Mar 24 (Reuters) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose peacemaking policies were rejected by Hamas Islamists after they won elections, said he believed a peace deal with Israel could still be achieved in less than a year.

In an interview with Israel's Haaretz newspaper published today, Abbas said he had proposed secret talks with the United States and former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres, who has spearheaded peace efforts in the past.

''I am convinced that within less than a year, we will be able to sign an agreement,'' said Abbas.

But Abbas's ability to negotiate a peace deal is in doubt, both because of Hamas's election victory and Israel's reluctance to deal with the Palestinian president.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has publicly called Abbas irrelevant, and the Jewish state has vowed not to deal with Hamas, which has rebuffed calls to renounce violence, recognise Israel and abide by interim peace deals.

Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose centrist Kadima party is expected to win a March 28 general election, is threatening to bypass Abbas with unilateral moves to draw a final border with the Palestinians.

''I can promise that you have a partner for this peace. On the day after the elections you will find us ready to sit in negotiations with no prior conditions,'' Abbas said.

If an agreement is reached, Abbas said he would be the one to sign it.

Abbas said he would be prepared to put any peace agreement to a referendum, adding that he was ''certain'' a majority of Palestinians would support it at the polls.

But Abbas told Haaretz that he feared Israel was not interested in negotiations and was avoiding them under the pretext of having no Palestinian partner following Hamas's election victory.

Olmert has proposed unilaterally dismantling isolated Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank while strengthening bigger enclaves.

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