There are growing signs that the Palestinians will not follow through on their pledge to pull out of direct talks with Israel once the moratorium on new settlement construction expires this Sunday.
Settlers have already planned a rally for Sunday, to celebrate the end of the 10- month freeze, and have promised to resume construction immediately on 2,066 housing units that have been halted since November.RELATED:Obama calls on Israel to extend freeze in UN speechMubarak, Merkel call on PA, Israel to be creative at talks
On Thursday, a Palestinian Authority official in Ramallah indicated that the Palestinians would continue to talk even if the construction in the settlements is resumed.
Still, from the podium at the UN General Assembly in New York, US President Barack Obama called on Israel to continue the freeze.
“We believe that the moratorium should be extended. We also believe that talks should press on until completed,” Obama said.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas stopped short of repeating his threat to pull out of the talks with Israel if the freeze is not extended.
Abbas was quoted by the PA’s official Wafa news agency as saying that he was ready to reach a just and comprehensive agreement.
Government sources said the US was pushing for a creative compromise
between the position set forth by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who
has insisted that he must keep his word to let the moratorium end as
scheduled, and that of Abbas, who has several times threatened that
resumed building would scuttle the direct negotiations, which resumed
earlier this month after they were halted in December 2008.
According to the sources, the US is looking for a compromise between the
parties that does not involve a unilateral concession on Israel’s part.
Netanyahu is open to these efforts, but has not changed his plans to
let the moratorium expire on Sunday.
The prime minister has spoken with leaders from around the world on this
issue in recent days, including US Vice President Joseph Biden,
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and
Greece Prime Minister George Papandreou.
Israel’s special envoy Yitzhak Molho is in the US to help find a solution with the Obama administration.
According to government sources, Netanyahu told people in his bureau on
Thursday night, “I have made great efforts to achieve peace. We have
taken the unprecedented gesture of suspending construction in Judea and
Samaria for 10 months. Unfortunately, the Palestinians wasted the last
10 months and entered the talks just three weeks ago under pressure from
“If the Palestinians want peace, they will remain in the talks, in order
to reach a framework agreement within a year,” the prime minister
continued. “I hope the Palestinians will not turn their back on peace.”
He added that construction in West Bank settlements had continued
through the last 17 years of talks, including in the last year of prime
minister Ehud Olmert’s term in office.
Speaking to US Jewish leaders in New York on Tuesday, Abbas spoke of the
difficult choice he needed to make with regard to the talks.
“I cannot say I will leave the negotiations, but it’s very difficult for
me to resume talks if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declares that
he will continue his activity in the West Bank and Jerusalem,” he said.
Abbas comments were distributed by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for
Middle East Peace, which hosted him at a closeddoor dinner with more
than 50 American Jewish leaders in New York.
According to the transcript put out by the organization, Abbas expressed
understanding for Israeli security concerns, and said that “we accept
the state of a demilitarized Palestine.
Demilitarization has been an fundamental demand for Netanyahu, who has
indicated he wants to keep an Israeli presence along the eastern border
to prevent the smuggling of rockets into the West Bank.
Abbas said at the dinner that he would allow Jewish soldiers to
participate in a “third-party” security force within Palestinian
Another contentious issue, the “right of return” of Palestinian
refugees, was one that would have to be “discussed,” according to Abbas.
“Let us say that we want to solve this problem. What’s so important
about this issue is that nobody can impose [their views] on the other
while they are negotiating any issue.”
When asked about Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize
Israel as a Jewish state, Abbas responded, “If the Israeli people want
to name themselves whatever they want, they are free to do so” and said
he would accept Israel’s characterization as a Jewish state if the
Knesset voted to designate the state as such.
His response didn’t sooth everyone in the crowd, which included heads of
major Jewish organization, various Jewish streams and prominent
activists across the political spectrum.
Orthodox Union President Stephen Savitsky expressed dissatisfaction with
Abbas’s response to his request that he recognize the special
historical ties that Jews have with Jerusalem and the Temple Mount,
which Savitsky described as “dismiss[ive].”
“President Abbas missed an opportunity this evening to make a key
statement that would have created goodwill in the Jewish community,”
In his comments, Abbas also addressed the tragedy of the Holocaust,
noting that he sent his ambassador in Poland to Auschwitz. “It was a
crime against humanity. And we want these crimes not to be repeated,” he
said, according to the transcript.
He continued by condemning anti-Semitism and statements by Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calling for the destruction of Israel,
though he took a more calibrated line on Palestinian incitement.
“I didn’t deny it. But I can say there is some incitement on the other
side. It doesn’t mean we have to exchange blame and accusations here and
there,” he said. “We want to put an end to this incitement.”
Abbas described Netanyahu as “my partner in our quest for peace,” a
formulation Netanyahu has used for the Palestinian leader, and described
the prime minister’s recent statements about the Palestinian
sovereignty as “encouraging.”
At a separate dinner with Jewish leaders in New York Tuesday night,
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad also spoke about the importance
Violence “has to be dealt out of the equation permanently regardless of
what happens in the peace process,” he told some 65 business, community
and religious leaders at a dinner arranged by The Israel Project.
He also talked about the need to end incitement against Israel, according to remarks distributed by the group.
He described his government was committed to an “incitement- free
environment.” He noted that,“incitement is a problem and we see it as
such,” and said,“I don’t think one can ever say that we have done
everything that could possibly be done … but we are trying,” Fayyad
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, head of The Israel Project, welcomed Fayyad’s participation and defended their invitation to him.
“Prime Minister Fayyad’s spirit of hope was extremely welcome.
We know that some people will criticize us for falling for a Palestinian
‘charm offensive.’ “However, there is nothing offensive about charm,”
Mizrahi said in a statement distributed after the event. “More Jews and
Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, should sit together over dinner and
exchange ideas – especially when it can help lead to security and
peace.”Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.