Abbas Rejects Talks With Israel in Absence of West Bank Construction Halt
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said after consulting Arab leaders in Cairo that there will be no further direct peace talks with Israel unless it renews a moratorium on settlement construction.
Abbas met Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak today and Amre Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, yesterday, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa. His chief negotiator, Saeb Erakat, left Egypt by plane for Washington, where he will meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to clarify a U.S. decision not to press Israel further on settlement construction to revive the talks, it said.
“We will not accept negotiations as long as settlement goes on,” Abbas told reporters. He said Erakat went to Washington because “things can’t be solved on the phone.”
President Barack Obama is sending envoy George Mitchell back to the Middle East next week to determine whether it is still possible to revive Israeli-Palestinian talks that have been stalled since mid-September, Philip J. Crowley, a State Department spokesman, said yesterday.
Israel’s chief negotiator, Yitzhak Molcho, is already in Washington for talks with Clinton and Mitchell to prepare for the U.S. envoy’s separate meetings with Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next week, according to an Israeli government official who asked not to be identified because Molcho’s itinerary had not been officially announced.
Abbas said Erakat will not have any direct interaction with Netanyahu’s negotiator and that their talks with Clinton and Mitchell will be kept separate.
“There will be no meetings behind the curtain between him and the Israelis,” Abbas said, according to Wafa.
Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority collapsed after less than a month in September when a 10-month Israeli moratorium on settlement construction expired. Abbas said he wouldn’t continue direct talks without a building freeze.
The Palestinian leader will chair a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s decision-making Executive Committee in the West Bank city of Ramallah tomorrow to develop its strategy in light of the U.S. decision on settlements, said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the committee.
“We should come out with a Palestinian policy to show it to the concerned parties in order to reach comprehensive support on Palestinian rights,” she said in an e-mailed statement.
Obstacles to Peace
Former Middle East negotiators say Mitchell faces an uphill battle in convincing both sides to find common ground on some of the stickiest issues blocking a final peace agreement, such as the borders of a Palestinian state and security guarantees.
After failing to get Israelis and Palestinians to resume face-to-face peace negotiations, the U.S. administration’s only real option was to try mediation on the fundamental issues needed for a two-state solution, said Aaron David Miller, a former Mideast peace negotiator and State Department official.
“The only good news is they’re going to be focused now on the end game and the substance that is required to actually get an agreement,” Miller said.
Clinton, who meets today with Molho, may outline a new U.S. approach in a speech she is scheduled to give tomorrow at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
“We’re looking forward to that like Moses coming down from the mountain with the tablets,” said Miller. Still, the speech is “likely to be more of a philosophy than a blueprint,” he said.
Change of Tack
Crowley said the U.S. recognized that persuading Israel to halt Jewish settlements in the West Bank had become “an end in itself rather than a means to an end.” Once that effort failed, he said it made sense to shift “to a different path.”
Asked what the new track would be, Crowley replied, “That’s what we’re trying to figure out.”
Israelis and Palestinians yesterday traded accusations about which side had undermined peace talks.
Erakat said Netanyahu “succeeded in torpedoing the peace talks.” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said the Palestinian strategy was “to avoid negotiations” and “blame Israel.”
Israel has built about 120 settlements in the West Bank since the late 1960s. Another 100 smaller settlements, which Israel calls outposts, were built during the past decade. The United Nations says the settlements are illegal, and the International Committee of the Red Cross says they breach the Fourth Geneva Convention governing actions on occupied territory.
Israel says the settlements don’t fall under the convention because the territory wasn’t recognized as belonging to anyone before the 1967 war, in which Israel prevailed, and therefore isn’t occupied.
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