Peace talks in danger as settlement building resumes
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked for peace talks to continue even as Israeli settlement construction restarts in the West Bank. US and Palestinian leaders have urged Israel to extend a settlement freeze to help save negotiations.
The recently renewed peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders faced its first major obstacle as Israeli settlers began construction of new homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin 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.
“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.”
Desire for talks to continue
After resisting US calls to extend the moratorium on settlements, Netanyahu’s plea to settlers appeared aimed at persuading Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas not to quit the negotiations.
Speaking to reporters in Paris on Sunday, as he arrived in France for a two-day visit, Abbas warned Israel it was endangering the negotiations. “Israel has to choose peace. If it chooses peace we will proceed with the negotiations but it if doesn’t this will be a waste of time and a lost opportunity,” he said.
Abbas’ visit to France will include a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Until last week, Abbas was adamant that if the moratorium ended, all talks with the Israelis would be terminated. On Friday he appeared to have changed course in an interview with the Arab newspaper al-Hayat, published on Sunday. Asked whether he would terminate all talks with the Israelis if the settlement moratorium was not extended, Abbas said: "No, we will go back to the Palestinian institutions, to the Arab follow-up committee."
“He had repeatedly said he would leave the negotiating table if Israel did not yield on the freezing of settlements. If these remarks are confirmed, this represents a very serious political sacrifice for Mahmoud Abbas,” said Fenwick.
Pressure on Abbas
Abbas is facing competing demands from Israel and the US, as well as from Palestinian and Arab groups.
A meeting with the Arab League’s Arab Monitoring Committee is scheduled for Monday to discuss whether or not the Palestinian Authority should continue negotiations with Israel now that settlement construction has resumed.
Abbas must also contend with new pressures from domestic rivals Hamas, the Islamist group that governs the Gaza Strip and opposes any recognition of Israel.
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 an Arab League conference in Cairo on October 4.