The Palestinians will withdraw from the planned direct talks with Israel if construction in the settlements continues, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday.

Abbas’s threat came in a letter he dispatched to the members of the Mideast Quartet: the US, Russia, EU and the UN.

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The document was delivered to representatives of the Quartet by chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat.

In the letter, Abbas urged the Quartet members to abide by resolutions of the UN pertaining to the Israeli-Arab conflict, the principles of the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, the 2002 road map and the 2002/2007 Arab Peace Initiative.

Abbas’s letter is seen in part as an attempt to reassure critics that he hasn’t abandoned his conditions for negotiating directly with Israel.

With the exception of Abbas loyalists in the PLO and Fatah, all Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have strongly condemned the PA’s decision to hold direct talks.

Hundreds of Palestinian political figures and organizations have signed a petition warning Abbas against succumbing to American and Israeli pressure to drop his conditions for direct talks.

“Settlements and peace are two parallels that don’t meet,” Abbas wrote in his letter to the Quartet.

“If Israel continues with the settlement construction, we will withdraw from the talks.”

PA officials in Ramallah said that Washington’s invitation to conduct direct talks came as a surprise to Abbas and his aides.

Abbas was “enraged” when he heard that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was about to issue the invitation without informing him in advance, the officials said.

Abbas even considered issuing a public statement rejecting the US invitation, one official said.

In the end, Abbas and his aides were persuaded to accept the invitation after receiving four urgent phone calls from the State Department, another PA official said.

“The Americans have forced us to drop all our preconditions,” the official complained. “This makes us look bad in the eyes of our people.”

Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official who also serves as an adviser to Abbas, expressed dismay over Washington’s failure to invite representatives of all the Quartet members to the launch of direct talks in Washington early next month.

The Palestinians would have liked to see the Russian president and the UN secretary-general at the talks, Ahmed said.


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