Jerusalem took in stride on Saturday night a Palestinian Authority statement that talks would be halted if Israel didn’t stop settlement construction, saying this was not necessarily the PA’s final word and that discussions with the US were continuing to find a “creative solution” to the stalemate.

Following a meeting of the PA leadership that issued a statement saying there could be no peace talks unless Israel halted settlement construction, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a statement of his own calling on PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the PA leadership to continue the talks in order to reach a “historic agreement” within a year.

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“The way to reach a historic peace agreement between our two peoples is to sit around the negotiating table continuously and with seriousness, and not to leave it, because that is the place to solve our differences,” the prime minister said.

“The Palestinians conducted direct talks with Israeli governments for the last 17 years amid building in Judea and Samaria, including during the last year of the preceding government.

I hope that also now they won’t turn their backs on peace, and will continue in the talks to reach a framework agreement within a year,” he said.

On Friday, amid reports that Netanyahu’s proposal for overcoming the current hurdle was to reach an agreement whereby Israel would build 1,200 housing units in Judea and Samaria in the next year, the prime minister said in a private meeting that “everyone knows that “moderate and restrained building” over the next year would not “impact at all on the peace map.”

The 1,200 figure would be in pace with what was being built during the 10-month moratorium, and less than the rate of construction under the Olmert government.

Netanyahu, in this meeting and in an apparent reference to the initial settlement moratorium imposed 10 months ago, said that while Israel had taken steps to enable Abbas to enter the direct talks, the Palestinians have only “hardened their positions.”

The international community needed to call on the PA to remain in the talks. “This is in the Palestinian interest, just as it is in ours,” Netanyahu said.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who has been intimately involved in trying to broker a compromise solution, also called on the PA on Saturday night not to bolt the talks.

“We all must show good judgment and determination in order to overcome the difficulties and continue the negotiations to achieve results,” he said in a statement.

Barak said he believed that intensive discussions between Israel, the US, the Palestinians and leaders in the Arab world could lead to a formula this week that would ensure a continuation of the direct negotiations.



The PA statement, issued on Saturday by the Palestinian leadership following a meeting to discuss the latest developments surrounding the US-sponsored direct talks, said Israel’s “insistence on combining settlement expansion with the negotiations is a clear indication that it is not serious in dealing with the peace efforts.

“This also shows that Israel is seeking to use the negotiations as a cover for pursuing the same settlement policy and changing the reality on the ground and determining its fate through occupation and aggression.”

The statement said that “in light of this, the Palestinian leadership holds the Israeli government responsible for the suspension of the negotiations and the peace process by foiling the efforts of the US administration and the international community in that regard.”

The statement stressed that the resumption of the talks required tangible steps, first and foremost the “unconditional and unrestricted” cessation of settlement construction.

Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Abbas, said the PA leadership made it clear that there would be no negotiations with Israel as long as the construction in the settlements continued.

He said that Abbas relayed the Palestinian leadership’s position to US special Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who met with Abbas twice over the past few days.

“The Americans asked to continue contacts with the Palestinians and we have no problem with that,” Abu Rudaineh said, referring to the Abbas-Mitchell discussions. “But if Israel is serious it must stop the settlements and take measures to convince the Palestinians and Arabs that it’s serious about a serious and just peace process.”

Abu Rudaineh said that US efforts to resume the direct talks faltered because of Israel’s decision to resume construction in the settlements. Mitchell went on Saturday to Qatar and Egypt, and was scheduled to go to Amman on Sunday.

An Arab League forum is expected to meet in Libya next Friday to discuss whether the PA should continue direct talks even though the moratorium was not extended.

In Damascus on Friday, Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal said Israel’s insistence on being recognized as a Jewish state was a conspiracy against Palestinian refugees. Mashaal was speaking at a mass wedding organized by Hamas for more than 700 couples. Family is the central element of Palestinian society and the “occupation [Israel] fears the coming generation. They fear our people in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank as well as Palestinian territories occupied in 1948.

“They are preparing their plans after they failed to break these people who do not surrender and who pass on the mantle from one generation to another,” Mashaal said.

The belief in diplomacy as the only way the Palestinians will achieve a state of their own is “one of the biggest mistakes,” he said.

He claimed that the Palestinian leadership was “drowning in politics.”

Politics must be put aside, he said, since “resistance and jihad come from society,” he said.

On Friday, Netanyahu met with both Mitchell and EU foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton.

Netanyahu is expected to convene his senior ministers, the forum known as the “septet,” on Sunday or Monday to discuss the recent developments, including a draft letter reportedly given by President Barack Obama spelling out US promises if Israel extended the moratorium by two months.

Due to Succot, neither the septet, the 15-member security cabinet, nor the full cabinet of 30 ministers has met in recent days to discuss that letter or the various efforts to overcome the current impasse.

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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