RAMALLAH, West Bank – President Barack Obama warned Mahmoud Abbas in a letter that U.S.-Palestinian relations might suffer if the Palestinian leader refuses to resume direct peace talks with Israel, a senior PLO official said Saturday.
The White House had no comment Saturday. However, the Obama administration has been pushing Abbas hard in recent days to move quickly to face-to-face negotiations.
The PLO official said Obama sent the letter – the strongest U.S. warning to Abbas yet – on July 16.
Abbas insists he will only negotiate once Israel commits to the idea of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, with minor modifications. He also wants Israel to freeze all settlement construction in those areas.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to be pinned down ahead of talks and has put in place only a 10-month freeze in housing starts in the West Bank that is due to expire in September.
Earlier this week, senior Palestine Liberation Organization members were briefed on the attempts to restart talks. During the meeting, an Abbas aide summarized the main points of Obama’s letter, said the PLO official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“In this letter, Obama asked Abu Mazen (Abbas) to go to direct negotiations and (wrote) that he can’t help the Palestinians unless they go to direct negotiations,” the official said.
Palestinians are wary of resuming talks with the hardline Netanyahu without reaching agreement first on an agenda, a timetable and a framework. Netanyahu has said he is eager to negotiate, but has refused to pick up where the last round left off and has said he will never relinquish east Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ hoped-for capital.