Israel must “choose between peace and the continuation of settlements,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a speech at the United Nations in which he pledged continued support for U.S. mediation.
“We affirm our complete readiness to cooperate with the American efforts for the success of the political process to reach a comprehensive, just and lasting peace,” Abbas said.
The Palestinian leader’s speech yesterday came amid stepped-up U.S. efforts to get both sides to agree on a compromise that will ensure direct talks don’t collapse.
A West Bank settlement-construction freeze expires tomorrow and Abbas has threatened to break off negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu begun on Sept. 2 if building resumes. He didn’t repeat that threat yesterday.
“My thought throughout has been that it is unlikely talks will break down at this stage because of the amount of political capital the U.S. put into these talks,” said Jonathan Spyer, a political scientist at Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, near Tel Aviv. A compromise will likely “emerge that will be somewhere between renewing the moratorium in its entirety and abandoning the moratorium entirely,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Abbas met for 25 minutes last night while U.S. special envoy George Mitchell met with him yesterday for 30 minutes, according to State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley.
“We remain engaged with both sides,” Crowley said in a message posted on Twitter.
President Barack Obama on Sept. 23 urged Israel to extend the building moratorium in areas claimed by the Palestinians to keep the peace effort going.
“These discussions are pretty intense right now,” Assistant Secretary for Near East Affairs Jeffrey Feltman told reporters Feb. 24. “We do not like the idea of seeing either side try to walk out of talks when negotiations should lead to the solution that works for all.”
Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho has extended his stay in the U.S. to continue talks, according to a senior Israeli official, who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record. Defense Minister Ehud Barak extended his stay in the U.S., Israel Radio and Channel Two television reported.
“Our demands for the cessation of settlement activities, the lifting of the siege and an end to all other illegal Israeli policies and practices do not constitute pre-conditions that are alien to the peace process,” Abbas said at the UN.
“Israel’s implementation of these obligations and commitments will lead to the creation of the necessary environment for the success of the negotiations and will give credibility to the pledge to implement the final agreement reached,” the Palestinian leader said.
The end of the settlement-building moratorium might mean the start of construction on at least 2,066 housing units that have the necessary permits, according to a survey by Peace Now, a Tel Aviv-based group that opposes settlement construction.
Tractors and work crews are poised to start building a new neighborhood on the terraced southern slope of Israel’s Neriah settlement in the West Bank, about five miles from the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters.
Excavating the lots and pouring cement foundations for 70 homes will begin unless the Defense Ministry withholds needed permission, according to Neriah Council Chairman Doron Ben- Yehuda.
The decision on settlements is a “major factor in determining the intentions of the Israeli side and its level of commitment to making the negotiations a success,” Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Abou Gheit told the General Assembly yesterday. “If Israel fails in its commitment to continue the freeze of settlement activity then it would expose the negotiating process to collapse and it would shoulder the full responsibility.”
--With assistance from Gwen Ackerman and Jonathan Ferziger in Tel Aviv. Editors: Ann Hughey, Mark Rohner.
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