Jerusalem: The Palestinian President has
left the door open to continuing peace negotiations with
Israel even if it resumes settlement construction in the West
Bank, offering a glimmer of hope that a compromise will be
reached in a key dispute that has threatened to torpedo the
newly relaunched talks.
But in a reminder of the fragile negotiating climate,
an Israeli security guard shot and killed a Palestinian man in
a volatile east Jerusalem neighbourhood early today, sparking
a small riot in the area. Police were trying to contain the
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly
threatened to walk away from peace talks, launched this month
in Washington, if Israel resumes building in its West Bank
settlements after a 10-month moratorium expires on Sunday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he
will not extend the slowdown, which has put thousands of
planned housing starts on hold. Israel has also quietly halted
new construction in east Jerusalem, the disputed sector of the
city that the Palestinians claim for their future capital.
Speaking to a closed meeting of Jewish American
leaders in New York yesterday, Abbas made clear that he wants
to continue the dialogue with Israel and signalled that he was
backing away from his ultimatum.
"I cannot say I will leave the negotiations, but it`s
very difficult for me to resume talks if Prime Minister
Netanyahu declares that he will continue his activity in the
West Bank and Jerusalem," Abbas said, according to a
transcript of the event obtained by The Associated Press.
Abbas urged Israel to extend the building restrictions
for several months while the sides negotiate the final borders
between Israel and a future Palestine. "At that time, Israelis
will be free to build in their territory and the Palestinians
the same," he said.
Some 50 leaders of Jewish American organisations as
well as former diplomats and policymakers attended yesterday
night`s meeting with Abbas, who is in New York for the General
Assembly of the United Nations. The two-hour gathering was
sponsored by the S Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East
Israeli and Palestinian officials have also been
meeting with American mediators in hopes of resolving the
standoff over the settlements.