After telling Israel to choose between settlements and peace, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is now quoted as saying he won't immediately walk out on peace talks if Israel fails to extend a freeze on settlement construction due to expire Sunday.
REUTERS - Palestinians would not immediately end peace talks with Israel if it did not extend a 10-month limited settlement moratorium expiring on Sunday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was quoted as saying.
In another sign that a way could be found out of a crisis threatening negotiations that began less than a month ago, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said there was more than an even chance the peace process would continue.
Abbas has said repeatedly he would walk out of the talks with Israel unless the partial halt to building remained in place. Palestinians view Israel's settlements as a formidable obstacle to statehood.
The moratorium, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said would not be extended, expires at midnight (2200 GMT).
Asked in an interview with the pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat whether he would declare an end to the negotiations if the freeze did not continue, Abbas said: "No, we will go back to the Palestinian institutions, to the Arab follow-up committee."
He was referring to an Arab League forum that gave him the go-ahead to pursue
Farnce 24's Gallagher Fenwick reports on the settlement dispute from Jerusalem, Israel
U.S.-brokered direct peace talks with Israel that began in Washington on Sept. 2.
Nabil Abu Radainah, an Abbas spokesman, told the Palestinian newspaper al-Ayyam that Abbas had called for a meeting of the follow-up committee "within days" in Cairo.
The al-Hayat interview, published on Sunday, was conducted on Friday. Abbas and Palestinian officials with him, due in France for an official visit on Sunday, were not immediately available for comment.
U.S. President Barack Obama has urged Israel to continue the freeze, but Netanyahu, whose coalition is packed with pro-settler parties, has offered only to limit the scope of renewed building.
"I think that the chance of achieving a mutually agreed understanding about (a) moratorium is 50-50," Barak said in a BBC interview in New York. "I think that the chances of having a peace process is much higher."
Israeli officials, including Barak, and Palestinian officials met U.S. diplomats in New York at the weekend to try to find a solution and to prevent the much-heralded negotiations falling at the first hurdle.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Washington was "doing everything we can to keep the parties in the direct talks". He said U.S. special envoy on the Middle East, George Mitchell, met Abbas for 30 minutes on Saturday.
Some of Netanyahu's allies, including members of his Likud party, are planning to mark the end of the moratorium at sundown on Sunday, by holding a cornerstone-laying ceremony for new homes in the remote Revava settlement in the northern West Bank.
More than 430,000 Jews live in well over 100 settlements established across the West Bank and East Jerusalem on land that Israel captured from Jordan in a 1967 Middle East war.
The World Court deems settlements as illegal, although Israel disputes this.
Palestinians say they will make it impossible for them to create a viable state and the issue is one of the core problems standing in the way of any peace deal.
Date created : 2010-09-26