'Israel must choose: Peace or continuation of settlements'

PA President Abbas gives Israel ultimatum as end of moratorium on West Bank settlement construction looms; Netanyahu advises Barak, Molcho who remain in US in attempt to reach compromise.

Abbas UN 311 (photo credit: Channel 10 [file photo])
Abbas UN 311
(photo credit: Channel 10 [file photo])
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Saturday that no peace deal is possible unless Israel stops settlement construction, but he did not threaten to walk away from the negotiating table if the settlement construction moratorium expires as scheduled on Sunday at midnight.
“Israel must choose between peace and the continuation of settlements,” Abbas said in his address to the UN General Assembly’s annual meeting.
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In Jerusalem, meanwhile, government sources said that Israel was “open to compromises” on the issue, and there were a number of ideas that Jerusalem could live with.
The sources said that intensive talks on the matter were continuing in the US, in an effort to keep the issue from derailing the direct talks that were restarted at the beginning of the month.
One of the ideas that have been raised is to extend the freeze for another three months, and set that as a deadline by which Israel and the PA must reach an agreement on borders – so that Israel would then know exactly where it was free to build.
Another idea, a variation of the same theme, is to extend the moratorium by another three months, but exclude from this moratorium some 2,000 units for which all the necessary permits have been granted and on which building could start immediately.
Among other ideas that have been raised are the following: • Agree to the number of units that can be constructed each year, based on natural growth; • Allow building in the large settlement blocks in areas adjacent to the existing construction line, but allow only the construction of public buildings needed for natural growth in all other settlements; • Agree to gradual construction now, and to extend the moratorium at the beginning of the year, when the talks move into a more advanced stage; • Allow housing construction in the largest settlements – Ma’aleh Adumim, Betar Ilit, Modi’in Ilit and Ariel – but construction for public building only in the rest of the settlements.
As of Saturday night, no special governmental meeting has been scheduled for Sunday to discuss these or any other options that may be on the table.
In recent days, Israel has come under intense pressure from the US, the EU, the Quartet and the UN to extend the moratorium to prevent Abbas from bolting from the negotiating table, as he has threatened to do.
Abbas is also coming under pressure not to carry out his threat, and to give the direct talks more time.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak is spearheading Israel’s efforts to find a compromise solution, and has extended his stay in New York, where, along with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s chief negotiator Yitzhak Molcho, they have held a series of conversations on the matter over the last few days on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting with both US and Palestinian officials.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, hosted Quartet envoy Tony Blair in his succa Friday, where this issued was discussed.
Netanyahu has said that the government decision taken 10 months ago to freeze settlement construction would not be renewed. As a result, and barring a new decision by the security cabinet, it will expire at midnight on Sunday.
Meanwhile, in his speech to the UN, Abbas reaffirmed the Palestinian commitment to try to reach a peace deal.
“We have decided to enter into final status negotiations. We will continue to exert every effort to reach an agreement for Palestinian-Israeli peace within one year in accordance with resolutions of international legitimacy... and the vision of the two-state solution,” he said.
“Our demands for the cessation of settlement activities, the lifting of the siege [of Gaza] and an end to all other illegal Israel policies and practices do not constitute arbitrary preconditions in the peace process.”
These are past obligations that Israel is required to implement, he said, and Israel’s implementation “will lead to the creation of the necessary environment for the success of the negotiations.”
Abbas said the Palestinians and the wider Middle East are continuously pushed into “the corner of violence and conflict” as a result of Israel’s “mentality of expansion and domination.”
He also demanded an end to what he said was Israel’s destruction of the historical identity of Jerusalem, its flouting of UN resolutions, and the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Israel, Abbas told the General Assembly, should be compelled “particularly to cease all settlement activities in the occupied annexation apartheid wall and end the policy of blockade and closures and the removal of the checkpoints that restrict the lives and movement of our people and deprive them of their basic human rights.”
Abbas thanked US President Barack Obama in his speech, “who affirmed in his statement before the Assembly two days ago the two-state solution and the necessity for a freeze of settlement activities, as well as his deep hope for the establishment of the independent state of Palestine and its full membership in the United Nations.
“On this occasion, we affirm our complete readiness to cooperate with the American efforts for the success of the political process to reach a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the region,” Abbas said.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said US special Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell would meet Abbas on Saturday. “We are doing everything we can to keep the parties in direct talks,” Crowley said.
On Friday, Abbas met for some 25 minutes with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Jordana Horn in New York and AP contributed to this report.