Sha'ath: Netanyahu can save talks by extending freeze

Abbas in Paris as moratorium deadline approaches; will meet French Jewish leaders, Sarkozy.

Sarkozy Abbas 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Sarkozy Abbas 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Palestinian Authority negotiator Nabil Sha'ath said that direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians are in the hands of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and only he can "neutralize the explosive situation" by extending the moratorium on West Bank settlement construction, Israel Radio reported on Sunday.
Sha'ath added that if Netanyahu fails to extend the building freeze and peace talks subsequently fail, Israel will be held fully responsible.
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Sha'ath arrived in Paris on Sunday along with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as Israelis and Palestinians try to find a compromise on the issue of the moratorium which was scheduled to end on Sunday night.
Abbas was scheduled to meet with leaders of the French Jewish community and later with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Francois Fillon. Sarkozy was expected to try and convince Abbas not to leave peace talks with the Israelis.
Abbas denied that Palestinians would turn to violence if talks are halted by saying "we tried the Intifada and it caused us a great deal of damage," according to an interview published in London based newspaper Al-Hayat cited by Army Radio Sunday.
Abbas claimed in the interview that if there is a breakdown in direct negotiations his people will not start violent confrontations with Israel.
The comments come after 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.
In Jerusalem, meanwhile, government sources said that Israel was “open to compromise” 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 buildings only in the rest of the settlements.
Jordana Horn in New York and AP contributed to this report.