Sunday, November 21, 2010

Abbas Says No Talks Without Jerusalem Building Freeze

November 21, 2010,

Alaa Shahine

Nov. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he will reject any U.S. proposal seeking to resume peace talks with Israel if it doesn’t include a freeze on Jewish settlement construction in east Jerusalem.

“If it doesn’t include Jerusalem of course we will reject it,” Abbas told reporters in Cairo today after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state.

President Barack Obama’s administration has proposed that Israel freeze West Bank settlement construction for 90 days in exchange for 20 warplanes and a U.S. pledge to veto any attempt in the United Nations to impose a peace agreement, according to diplomats familiar with the deal.

The U.S. has been trying to coax the sides back to talks since they stalled when a 10-month partial Israeli freeze on settlement building expired on Sept. 26. If Israel and the Palestinians accept the plan, it will keep alive President Barack Obama’s effort to prod the two sides toward a comprehensive peace agreement.

Abbas said that he hasn’t received any U.S. proposal for renewing talks, though he expects this to happen “any moment.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Nov. 18 he was confident that his cabinet will accept the U.S. plan.

“We have seven options, first of which is direct talks and we need to let this option run its course, and if we fail the other options will come one after another,” Abbas said. He didn’t disclose the other options.

Netanyahu and Abbas agreed in September to try to reach an agreement on the framework for a comprehensive peace accord within a year. All the issues at the heart of the conflict would be on the table, including the borders of a future Palestinian state, security arrangements for Israel, the status of Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

At least 5,000 West Bank settlers rallied outside Netanyahu’s office building in Jerusalem today to demand that the government rejects the U.S. proposal for another construction freeze, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said in a phone interview.

Many Israeli schools in the West Bank suspended classes so that students could attend the rally, said Naftali Bennett, director-general of the Yesha Council, which represents about 300,000 settlers in the West Bank.

“If the government goes ahead with this proposal instead of standing tall and resisting American pressure, it’s nothing less than a national disgrace,” Bennett said in a phone call.

Israel has built about 120 settlements in the territory since the late 1960s. Another 100 smaller settlements, which the government calls outposts, were built during the past decade.

About 500,000 Jews have moved to the West Bank and east Jerusalem since Israel took over the areas in the 1967 conflict. The UN says the settlements are illegal, and the International Committee of the Red Cross says they breach the Fourth Geneva Convention governing actions on occupied territory. Obama has said the settlements aren’t legitimate.

Israel says settlements don’t fall under the convention because the territory wasn’t recognized as belonging to anyone before the 1967 war, in which Israel prevailed, and therefore isn’t occupied.

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