No return to Middle East talks without halt to settlement construction, warns Abbas


PRESIDENT MAHMOUD Abbas has said Palestinians will not return to negotiations with Israel unless there is a complete stop to building settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Following a meeting in Cairo yesterday with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, Mr Abbas said: “If Israel wants to return to its settlement activities, then we can’t go on. A settlement freeze must include all of the Palestinian territories, and above all Jerusalem.

“It is not just us who want a halt to settlements but also the United States and the world, and a big part of Israeli public opinion. Efforts are not being exerted on us . . . the problem is between the US administration and Israel.”

He said no invitations had been extended by the US to restart talks, suspended after Israel resumed construction at the end of September. However, he expected the US to advance an official request to the parties to resume negotiations “very soon”.

Mr Abbas announced that the Arab League foreign ministerial negotiations committee, due to convene in coming days, and the Palestinian leadership would respond in due course.

Israel has indicated that it might be prepared to extend a partial freeze for three months if East Jerusalem is excluded. During the 10-month curb on West Bank construction, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu attempted to limit construction there by refusing to issue new building permits.

However, he has said recently that he will accept no new restrictions in East Jerusalem, occupied and annexed by Israel in 1967.

According to leaked reports of the elements of a US proposal, Israel would reinstate the partial settlement curb in the West Bank only, the US would veto any attempt by the Palestinians to unilaterally declare independence and Washington would provide Israel with 20 F-35 fighter aircraft. The US has promised to provide a letter with the incentives described in detail.

The Palestinians – who have not been offered any sweeteners or consulted on the deal – have repeatedly protested about the exclusion of Jerusalem and the 90-day time limit proposed, putting in jeopardy Washington’s last-ditch effort to restart talks halted after Israel launched its war on Gaza in December 2008.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said last week that a Palestinian state without Jerusalem would be meaningless.

“The settlements are a violation of international law and those who violate the law should not be rewarded . . . we want a full and indefinite cessation of settlement construction . . . until the final status talks on core issues end,” Mr Erekat said.

On Saturday, in an interview in the Saudi-owned daily Asharq al- Awsat, Mr Abbas, for the first time, argued there should be no linkage between the halt to Israeli construction in the occupied territories and weapons supplies.

“We have nothing to do with all that,” he said.

Mr Abbas added that US military aid to Israel should be “carried out far removed from the Palestinian peace negotiations and not used as a pretext for giving more weaponry to Israel”.