US has week to save Palestinian talks
A FRESH US-led diplomatic effort was under way yesterday to rescue Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as construction resumed in some Jewish West Bank settlements after Israel's decision to end a 10-month moratorium on building.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas effectively gave US mediators at least a week to resolve the crisis by confirming that he would hold a series of consultations, culminating in an Arab League meeting called for next Monday, before deciding whether to pull out of the negotiations.
Speaking after meeting French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris, Mr Abbas told reporters: "We will not have any quick reactions. After this chain of meetings, we will be able to put out a position that clarifies the Palestinian and Arab opinion on this issue now that Israel has refused to freeze settlements."
Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu had earlier marked the end of the moratorium by appealing to Mr Abbas to stay in the talks "in order to reach an historic peace agreement between our two peoples".
Mr Abbas, who had threatened earlier to pull out of the negotiations if the partial freeze was halted, again called yesterday on Mr Netanyahu to extend it for three or four more months to allow serious negotiation on the "fundamental issues" between the two sides.
Mr Abbas spoke as work resumed in at least three settlements yesterday. In Adam, north of Jerusalem, a bulldozer cleared ground at a site earmarked for new housing while a single bulldozer flattened earth at another at Karmei Tzur in the southern West Bank.
But the resumption was limited across the West Bank as the end of the partial freeze fell in the middle of the week-long Sukkot religious holiday in which many businesses are only partly functioning.
Palestinian builders are often unable to go to work because of the temporary closure of crossings ordered by the Israeli military during the holiday.
The significance of the 22-member Arab League meeting fixed for next Monday is that it will be with the same representatives of Arab states who in July voted to give Mr Abbas the backing to enter negotiations if and when he chose.
Mr Netanyahu's decision to halt the moratorium is another setback for the Middle East peace efforts of US President Barack Obama, who issued a call on Israel to prolong the freeze in his speech to the UN general assembly last week. (© Independent News Service)