Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Monday he would consult the Arab League Oct. 4 on deciding whether or not he would pull out of peace talks following the Israeli resumption of West Bank settlement construction.
As Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank resumed, imperilling the Mideast peace process and testing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ resolve to take part in peace talks, the Palestinian leader announced Monday that he would seek an Arab League decision next week on whether to pull out of the negotiations.
Speaking at a joint press conference with President Nicolas Sarkozy in France, where the Palestinian leader is on a two-day visit, Abbas said he will hold talks with the 22-member Arab League on Oct. 4 on how to proceed.
Acknowledging the high stakes and competing pressures on all sides, Abbas assured the international community that, “we will not have any quick reactions.'' Instead, he hoped that the upcoming meetings with fellow Arab leaders would put him in, “a position to clarify what is the Palestinian and Arab opinion on this matter.”
Reiterating his commitment to the peace process, Sarkozy said he would meet with Abbas, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Paris before the end of October.
Both Abbas and Sarkozy issued a joint call for a freeze on the construction of Jewish settlements, which has been a major stumbling bloc since a moratorium expired on Sunday.
Abbas called for a three-to-four month extension on the settlement construction freeze, a move that Sarkozy supported.
Responding to Abbas’ announcement, US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley welcomed the Palestinian leader’s measured reply.
"In our discussions with both sides over the weekend, we encouraged restraint whatever decision was made on the Israeli side and the Palestinian response so far reflects that restraint,'' said Crowley.
He also told reporters that US Mideast envoy George Mitchell would be returning to the region later this week to try to break the current deadlock.
‘Construction has indeed resumed’
Monday’s meeting in Paris came as Netanyahu asked US and Palestinian leaders to pursue the talks, which were re-launched on Sep. 2, and earlier urged Jewish settlers to show restraint before a 10-month old moratorium on new construction expired on Sunday at 11:59 p.m.
Bulldozers were lumbering across the West Bank, leveling the ground Monday. But the construction activity is expected to be light during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, which ends Sept. 30.
“Construction has indeed resumed,” said Jerusalem-based FRANCE 24 correspondent Gallagher Fenwick. “But perhaps not in the huge proportions that some thought it would. The total number of houses that could potentially be built is around 2,000.”
‘A very, very delicate week or so ahead for President Abbas’
Abbas has repeatedly warned that he would pull out of the current talks if Israel did not extend the West Bank settlement construction moratorium.
Israel’s failure to do so has put the Palestinian leader in a difficult position, with the US exerting pressure to continue the talks, said FRANCE 24 correspondent Armen Georgian, reporting from the French presidential palace shortly after the joint press conference.
“There’s no good solution for him,” said Georgian, referring to the Palestinian leader. “He’s under pressure probably from some Arab states and from Washington and whatever he does, he could be further weakened domestically. So it’s a very, very delicate week or so ahead for President Abbas.”
Hamas calls on Abbas to stick to his promise
After resisting US calls to extend the moratorium on settlements, Netanyahu’s plea to settlers appeared aimed at persuading Abbas not to quit the negotiations.
But at a meeting on Monday in the Syrian capital of Damascus, where he currently lives in exile, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called on Abbas to stick to his commitment to withdraw from the talks if Israel resumed settlement construction in the West Bank.
"I call on my brothers at the Palestinian Authority, who had stated they would not pursue talks with the enemy (Israel) if it continued settlement construction, to hold to their promise," said Meshaal, before adding, “To negotiate without a position of strength is absurd.”
After his talks with the French president, the Palestinian leader will oversee discussions among the powerful Central Committee of Fatah and the senior leadership of the Palestinian Liberation Organization ahead of the Oct. 4 Arab League conference in Cairo.
Date created : 2010-09-27