Palestinians Demand Settlement Freeze for Peace

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday ruled out holding any peace talks with Israel until a full and lasting freeze in Jewish settlements, which EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Tel Aviv may agree to by mid-September.

Abbas and one of his senior allies in his Fatah party both reiterated the Palestinian stance on the settlement issue as a U.S. official acknowledged the problems in persuading Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Israeli coalition to stop settlement completely.

Palestinian official Nabil Shaath The official, who spoke last week, said Washington would not insist on a total freeze if the Palestinians would accept something less.

But Palestinian official Nabil Shaath Shaath told foreign media in Ramallah that if President Barack Obama should ask Fatah to start negotiations after only a partial, temporary settlement freeze: "I would say, Mr. Obama, we love you…but I am sorry this is not enough to bring us to the peace process."

"If Obama approves continuing settlement building in Jerusalem, Obama has pulled out of the Middle East peace process," he said.

He said Palestinians had met their commitments under the 2003, U.S.-backed "road map" to peace, including curbing violence against Israel, but that Israel had failed to meet its by extending its colonization of territory in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which it seized in the Middle East war of 1967.

"A total settlement freeze and a commitment to an independent Palestinian state will bring us back to the negotiating table immediately," Shaath said.

He ruled out accepting exemptions to the freeze, including exceptions for building in East Jerusalem or expanding existing settlements to cope with "natural growth" of families there. 

Sidelines of UN

Meanwhile, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Israel may agree to a West Bank settlement freeze by mid-September and is discussing the technical aspects of a deal with the U.S.

Solana also said after meeting the Israeli premier that a summit between the U.S., Israeli and Palestinian leaders to relaunch the dormant peace process could take place on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly at the end of September.

"I spoke to the prime minister (Netanyahu)… I got the clear sentiment that there is a possibility to get to an agreement before the beginning of the General Assembly that will allow us to resume negotiations," he told reporters.

"I hope we will arrive at some agreement sufficiently constructive (for) the meeting in New York of three parties" to take place, added Solana, who was meeting Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Monday as part of a regional tour.
Meetings with US

Israeli officials have been engaged in intensive talks with Obama’s Middle East envoy George Mitchell as Washington presses its close ally to halt settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

After meeting Netanyahu in London last week, Mitchell was set to hold another round of talks with Israel officials in Washington on Monday.

"Today in Washington there is another round of meetings of technical nature to see how some of the open issues could be dealt… the definitions of some of the questions related to settlements more on the technical side rather than the political side," Solana said.

"We would like to have this finalized more or less by the 18 or 19 of September," he added.

According to press reports over the past several days, Israel could agree to a temporary and limited freeze, with east Jerusalem exempted and projects already under way allowed to continue.

( English and Agencies)

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