Abbas gives Israel ultimatum: Settlements or peace

The US launched a last gasp effort to avert the collapse of Middle East talks, but Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas said Israel had to choose between peace and its settlements.

Last Updated: Sep 26, 2010, 00:13 AM IST

United Nations: The United States
launched a last gasp effort today to avert the collapse of
Middle East talks, but Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas said
Israel had to choose between peace and its settlements.

Amid frantic diplomatic efforts to persuade the
Palestinians not to leave the new US-organized negotiations,
Abbas condemned "the mentality of expansion and domination"
that he said controls Israel`s policies.

The Palestinian leader has threatened to leave the
fledgling negotiations, initiated by US President Barack Obama
barely three weeks ago, unless Israel extends a settlement
moratorium which due to expire on Sunday.

Abbas met with US Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton late yesterday and said there could be another meeting
after his speech to the UN General Assembly.

Palestinian and US sources later said that Abbas
will meet US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell on
Saturday, but no meeting with Clinton is scheduled.

Contacts went on behind the scenes, and even Obama
was at the White House available to make calls if necessary,
officials said.

Israel`s Defense Minister Ehud Barak and lawyer
Yitzhak Molcho, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s point man
on the peace talks, were also in New York to aid efforts
toward a compromise, Israeli radio reported.

Israel`s freeze on building new settlements in the
West Bank expires at midnight tomorrow. The Israeli government
has rejected strong international calls, including from Obama,
to completely halt settlement construction.

A senior Israeli official said yesterday that
"there cannot be zero construction" in the West Bank. The
official said Israel was willing to cut a compromise deal.

But Abbas rejected any compromise that does not
guarantee a "complete halt" to settlement activity including
in Jerusalem, top aide Nabil Abu Rudeina told a news agency.

The Palestinian leader praised Obama`s efforts to
bring Israelis and Palestinians together and declared his
"complete readiness to cooperate with the American efforts for
the success of the political process."

He told the UN assembly that Palestinians face
"dangerous problems that continue to push them into the corner
of violence and conflict, wasting chance after chance to
seriously address the issues faced by the people of the region
and to attain comprehensive and genuine solutions.

"This is the result of the mentality of expansion
and domination, which still controls the ideology and policies
of Israel."

PTI