Rafiq Husseini, chief of staff for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, says Abbas has the mandate of the Palestinian people to negotiate for peace, even though Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel, now controls the Gaza Strip.
Abbas was elected in 2005 with a 63 percent majority on a mandate to negotiate for peace, Husseini says.
"Therefore, he has his mandate from his people. I know that there is a problem with Hamas in Gaza, but that is not an obstacle in our opinion to negotiations," Husseini tells Robert Siegel.
Husseini says the Palestinian Authority is doing its best to provide better security and to prevent rocket attacks, but he says it is not fully empowered to do so.
"You can ask anyone in Palestine and they will tell you that the security situation is much better. The problem [is] that we don't control all of the West Bank ... we only control 12 percent of the West Bank. The rest of the West Bank is controlled by the Israeli army," Husseini says.
And he counters the Israeli point of view that East Jerusalem — and its settlements there — are different from the West Bank.
Israeli settlements must be frozen there, just as in the West Bank, because East Jerusalem was occupied by the Israelis beginning in 1967, as has been the rest of the West Bank, Husseini says.
He says he is encouraged by recent statements by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that there is no distinction between the settlements of East Jerusalem and those of the West Bank.
"This is where the American role is important ... when it comes to deciding whether this is acceptable from an international community point of view."