Renewing settlement activity could derail talks: Abbas

The Palestinian Authority prepares to resume direct negotiations with Israel.

Jerusalem: As the Palestinian Authority prepares to resume direct negotiations with Israel, its chief Mahmoud Abbas has warned that any effort to renew construction activities in the settlements would lead to the collapse of direct talks.

Israel and the Palestinians are set to hold direct talks on September 02 in Washington under US mediation, after an 18-month period.

"It`s impossible to conduct negotiations alongside settlement construction," Palestinian Authority President Abbas warned in letters sent to US President Barack Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and the High Representative of the European Union on Foreign Policy, Catherine Ashton, according to daily Ha`aretz.

The 10-month temporary freeze on building activities announced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to end on September 26 following which he has told his ruling Likud party ministers that the cabinet resolution on ending the freeze on the date will be followed to the letter.

However, Israel`s Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor continued last week to promote his initiative to renew constructions only in the large settlement blocs set to be annexed to Israel under any foreseeable peace agreement.

Meridor enjoys the support of Defence Minister Ehud Barak, but fellow members of the high profile forum of seven, ministers Benny Begin, Ellie Yishai and apparently Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, are opposed to him. The US administration has not yet made an official comment on the proposal, but senior Israeli officials in contact with those in Washington told Ha`aretz that the Americans did not rule it out.

US officials reportedly stressed that Obama`s position is mainly dependent on Palestinian readiness to accept constructions in the large settlement blocs.

PA`s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat yesterday said that although the American administration did not commit to PA that the construction freeze would be renewed after the September deadline, nevertheless, the Palestinians expected the freeze to continue.

Erekat noted that the Americans implied to the PA that if direct negotiations would restart, it would be easier to convince Israel to extend the construction freeze.

Netanyahu said at yesterday`s cabinet meeting that achieving peace with the Palestinians was "difficult, but possible..."

"I know there`s a lot of scepticism after the 17 years that elapsed since the Oslo Accords," Netanyahu said adding, "the existence of such scepticism is understandable".

The Israeli Premier told the cabinet that he intends to "surprise all the critics and sceptics”, but stressed he needed a Palestinian partner to succeed.

"If we find we have a real partner on the Palestinian side, an honest and earnest partner in negotiations that will need both sides to make the necessary steps - not just the Israeli side but also the Palestinian side - if we find we have a partner like that, we can soon reach a historic peace agreement between the two peoples," Netanyahu told the cabinet yesterday.

The hawkish Israeli leader stressed that any peace agreement will necessitate sustainable and realistic security arrangements, a Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, a resolution to the refugee problem within the borders of the Palestinian state and a Palestinian agreement to announce an end to the conflict.


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