We Won’t Start Peace Talks from Scratch: Abbas

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said on Monday that he would not start from scratch in peace talks with Israel after the formation of a new government there, as Israel declared more land in the occupied West Bank as state land.

"To begin from scratch is out of the question," Abbas told reporters after holding talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

"All future dialogue between us and Israel has to be preceded by a total stop of settlement activity, the lifting of roadblocks and the return of Israeli forces to their positions before Sep. 28, 2000," the start of the second Palestinian intifada or uprising, he said.

"If the settlements don’t stop, all negotiations will be futile and useless," he said.

Following last week’s parliamentary election in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud party is widely expected to become the next prime minister, possibly at the head of a coalition of far-right parties.

Netanyahu put the brakes on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks when he was prime minister in 1996-1999, in part by authorizing major new Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Lavrov for his part, reconfirmed Moscow’s intention to hold an international Middle East peace conference during the first half of 2009 that it hopes will stimulate the dormant negotiations.

"We will continue our efforts with the aim of restarting the peace process, which will require both parties to respect their obligations under the roadmap, including a stop to violence and to settlement activity," he said.

Israel has meanwhile declared 170 hectares (1.7 square kms) in the occupied West Bank as state land, a move that paves the way for the expansion of a major settlement bloc near the occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem.

The tract, which falls in the northern part of the Efrat settlement, just outside Bethlehem, was declared state land after eight appeals were rejected by the military authority in charge of the West Bank, a military spokesman said.

The project to build 2,500 homes had been launched in 2004 but was held up by the legal appeals filed by Palestinians. It could be further delayed as various formal approvals and permits are still required.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel will eventually have to give up most of the West Bank if it wants peace with the Palestinians, though settlement construction has expanded under his government despite international criticism.

Efrat, which has a population of 9,000, is part of Gush Etzion, one of the largest of the so-called settlement blocs Israel wants to keep under any agreement with the Palestinians.

(Alarabiya.net and Agencies)

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