Abbas questions indirect talks efforts as Israel approves more settlements

10:36, March 09, 2010      

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Monday cast doubts on Israel's readiness to resume negotiations with the Palestinians after the Jewish state approved building new settlements in the occupied West Bank, said a top Palestinian negotiator.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) negotiator, said Abbas' concerns were expressed during a meeting in Ramallah with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who offered to hold indirect talks between the two sides.

"The president raised the issue" of Israeli approval to build 112 new housing units at Beitar Illit settlement near Bethlehem " under the so-called settlement freeze," Erekat told a news conference.

Abbas told Mitchell that if every session by the Israeli cabinet would produce "an announcement of (new) settlements and unilateral measures, this casts doubts on everything we are doing, " according to Erekat.

The Palestinian-Israeli negotiations have been stalled in December 2008 when Israel launched a wide-scale offensive in the Gaza Strip. Abbas stressed he will not go back to direct talks unless Israel stops building more settlements in the occupied territories that would form a future Palestinian state.

Mitchell's offer, after being approved by Arab League (AL) and Palestinian National Authority (PNA), marks the first achievement by the envoy who was appointed when U.S. President Barack Obama's administration was sworn in.

Erekat said the proximity talks, which the AL said should not exceed four months, still need time before being launched. He explained that the PNA wants to know "what the United States would do if Israel refuses to allow the creation of a Palestinian state. " He added that Washington "is playing an active role in that issue."

Earlier Monday, an aide to Abbas revealed that if the proximity talks produced a deal on the borders of a future Palestinian state, "we would move to discuss the rest of the final-status issues."

However, if the talks failed, Israel would be blamed for wasting "the last opportunity" to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, said Tayeb Abdul-Rahim, Abbas' secretary.

The final-status issues involve the shape and form of the future Palestinian state and its sovereignty, as well as water, borders, refugees and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians view as their future capital.

He added that the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded to the key Palestinian questions about the objectives of the talks in a letter to Abbas, showing that Washington wants to see "an end to the Israeli occupation that would lead to an independent, democratic, viable Palestinian state alongside Israel. "

The PLO's approval of the indirect negotiations sparked anger by several other Palestinian factions, mainly Islamic Hamas movement and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine ( PFLP).

"This decision (approval) reflects (PLO's) disregard for all national constants," the PFLP said, accusing the Palestinian leadership of monopolizing the decision-making process.

The PFLP's statement added that Israel is the sole beneficiary of the negotiation's resumption.

Source: Xinhua
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