JERUSALEM – The Palestinian leadership on Saturday ruled out a resumption of peace talks without a halt to Israeli settlement building in the West Bank, backing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a dispute that has imperiled recently renewed negotiations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by appealing to Abbas to continue the negotiations. “The way to achieve an historic peace agreement between our two nations is to sit around the negotiating table, seriously and continuously, and not to leave it, because that is the place to resolve our disagreements,” he said in a statement.
Abbas met at his headquarters in Ramallah with members of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the central committee of his Fatah movement ahead of consultations at an Arab League summit in Libya next weekend.
“The leadership affirmed that the renewal of negotiations requires tangible steps that demonstrate their seriousness, the first of which is halting settlement without conditions or exceptions,” said a statement read out by Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior PLO official.
“The Palestinian leadership holds the Israeli government responsible for the suspension of the negotiations and the political process,” the statement said, accusing Israel of seeking “to use the negotiations as a cover to pursue this settlement policy.”
The U.S.-sponsored talks, renewed in early September, have foundered after a 10-month moratorium on new construction in Israeli settlements expired Sept. 26 and Netanyahu said it would not be renewed, despite pressure from Washington.
The U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, failed to break the impasse on Friday after two days of shuttling between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders. On Saturday he traveled to Qatar and Egypt to enlist the help of Arab leaders to broker a compromise.
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Abbas, said that the Palestinian president would address Arab foreign ministers and leaders at the Arab League meeting, seek their advice, “and then we’ll come back to the Palestinian leadership in order to take the right decision.” The Arab League had sanctioned the direct talks with Israel.
“The Palestinian position is clear: There will be no negotiations as long as settlement building continues,” Abu Rudeineh said, adding that if the Israelis “are not restraining such activities, how are we going to agree on the final status issues?”
Palestinian officials assert that by expanding settlements, Israel is seizing land the Palestinians want for a future state before its fate is decided in negotiations. Netanyahu has argued that limited building in the settlements during the year allotted to reach an agreement would not affect the final drawing of borders, and that halting settlement construction was never a precondition for previous Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
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