Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Cairo on Saturday to seek backing from Arab countries for his new political initiative to create a Palestinian state.
Abbas is expected to hold talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on the latest developments in the region, including the peace initiative and the cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.
During his three-day visit to Egypt, Abbas is also set to attend a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers and try to convince them to support his plan.
Last week, Abbas’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, presented the peace plan to US Secretary of State John Kerry.
According to a PA official in Ramallah, the US administration has expressed reservations about the initiative, saying Washington remains strongly opposed to unilateral moves that could impact the peace process.
Abbas’s plan calls for holding peace talks with Israel over a period of nine months, during which there would be a full freeze of settlement construction and a release of Palestinian prisoners.
The plan envisages the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital in no more than three years.
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If the talks fail, Abbas intends to resort to the UN Security Council to ask for a resolution that demands a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines. This would be followed by Palestinian applications to join dozens of international treaties and conventions, as well as pursue Israel in the International Criminal Court.
The last round of talks, which fell apart in April, also took place over a nine-month period in which Israel released 80 prisoners and continued settlement activity.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government has rejected all calls for a settlement freeze since its 10-month halt on housing starts in Judea and Samaria that ended in September 2010 failed to advance the peace process.
“Abbas has to decide if he is serious about peace. If he goes back to playing the same games of going to the UN, exploiting his automatic majority against Israel and avoiding serious talks, nothing will change,” an Israeli official said.
“If, on the other hand, he chooses to engage seriously with Israel on the core issue of the conflict, if he is willing to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state and to take seriously its legitimate security concerns, then we could have a very serious [peace] process,” he added.
“Abbas has to decide if he wants the same old games or a serious peace process. We are ready for the latter,” the official added.
Last week, Israel published tenders for 283 homes in the West Bank settlement of Elkana amid an already existing international furor over such activity.
The Israel Lands Authority first published tenders for the homes in November 2013, as part of a larger package of settlement activity it linked to a release of 26 Palestinian prisoners, but the marketing process was never completed.
The tenders were republished on Friday for technical and bureaucratic reasons, an Israeli official said.
“We’re talking about a community that is part of the settlement blocs and will remain part of Israel in any future territorial agreement,” the official said.
Elkana, which is home to 3,860 people, is located 3.1 km. from the pre-1967 lines in the Samaria region of the West Bank.
Publication of the tenders comes as the international community continues to condemn Israel for expanding its holding of state land by close to a thousand acres.
The office of the Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories announced last Sunday that the land in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank had been reclassified from survey land to state land, after an investigation had determined that none of the parcels was private Palestinian property.
There is now a 45-day objection period. Palestinians say the land belongs to five villages in the area.
The reclassification paves the way for settlers to formally begin the technical work needed to build a fifth Jewish city in Judea and Samaria called Gva’ot. The other cities are: Modi’in Illit, Betar Illit, Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel.
It would take years, however, for any plans for the city of Gva’ot to become reality.
In 2012, the Defense Ministry gave initial authorization to build 523 homes on a parcel of state land at the Gva’ot site, but then froze the project.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for the PA presidency, accused Israel of seeking to “destroy everything” by continuing to expropriate West Bank land as it did for the Gva’ot project.
Israel’s actions have left no choice for the Palestinians but to go to the Security Council and join international organizations to “protect Palestinian lands,” he said.
But on the ground, the actual number of settler housing starts dropped by 72 percent in the first half of this year, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.
From January to June of 2013, ground was broken for 1,807 settlers homes, compared to only 507 in that same period this year.
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