Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday ruled out resuming peace talks with Israel unless it stops building of settlements in the occupied territories and insisted on the Palestinians right to "legitimate resistance."
Abbas made the comments during the inaugural meeting of the new 23-member Central Committee that his Fatah party elected during its first convention in two decades.
He said negotiations with Israel would only resume "on the basis of commitments made by both sides … particularly a halt to all forms of settlement activity without exception in Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied territories."
Abbas also stressed that while the Palestinians remain committed to peace, they also "reserve the right to use legitimate resistance, guaranteed under international law" against the Israeli occupation.
Abbas welcomed "the efforts of U.S. President Barack Obama and his insistence on the need to create a Palestinian state and to totally halt settlement activity."
Israel’s hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has risked a rift with Washington by refusing to heed calls to freeze building of settlements, which the international community considers illegal and a major hurdle in Middle East peace efforts.
Earlier, the head of a delegation of U.S. Democratic members of Congress blamed the Palestinians for failing to hold talks with Israel, calling it the "largest thing" impeding the peace process.
"I think the largest thing impeding the negotiations at this point is simply the unwillingness of Abbas to sit down (with the Israelis)," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters in Jerusalem.
The Fatah congress, which opened Aug. 4, was due to formally conclude after officials announce later Thursday or Friday election results for its 120-member Revolutionary Council.
Abbas hailed the gathering as "a huge success."
"This congress marks the beginning of a reform and renewal process within Fatah," said Abbas, who was confirmed as party leader during the congress in the occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem.
Injection of Fresh Blood
The 2,000 delegates renewed Fatah’s Central Committee in an election seen as an injection of fresh blood that could revive the Palestinian party founded by the iconic leader Yasser Arafat half a century ago to pursue independence, a movement that has lost much of its clout in recent years.
Marwan Barghuti, a popular leader, was among those elected to the Central Committee, even though he is serving five life sentences in Israel for his role in deadly attacks.
Top Palestinian negotiator and former prime minister Ahmed Qurei, who lost his seat on the committee, claimed "interventions" sullied the balloting.
He told the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper he formally complained to the Fatah leadership "not only against the results but also against the entire process of elections."
The daily also cited Qurei — who served as chief negotiator during the Annapolis peace talks in 2007 and 2008 — as saying he no longer believes a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict is realistic.
"Such a solution is quasi-impossible. How can there be a state whose borders are not defined, whose territory is cut up by settlements," he said.
The talks he chaired were launched under U.S. sponsorship in November 2007, but the Palestinians suspended the process during Israel’s war on the Hamas movement in Gaza at the turn of the year.