Abbas seeks PA backing for refusal to keep negotiating

PA president meets with dozens of senior Palestinians, set to brief them about latest round of talks with Mitchell; Abbas reiterates stance: "No talks under shadow of settlement construction," top aide says.

Netanyahu Abbas 311 AP (photo credit: Associated Press)
Netanyahu Abbas 311 AP
(photo credit: Associated Press)
RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sought the backing of dozens of senior Palestinians on Saturday for his refusal to keep negotiating with Israel without a slowdown in West Bank settlement construction.
However, the outcome of the meeting of leading members of the PLO, Abbas' Fatah movement and small Palestinian factions will likely not be the last word from the Palestinians. A deadline for a final decision was postponed twice in recent days, and a US mediator now has until Friday to try to avert a collapse of Mideast peace talks that were launched in Washington just a month ago.
RELATED:Mitchell, Ashton to meet leaders for peace talks pushPalestinian Affairs: Abbas’s credibility problemAbbas was set to brief the group about US envoy George Mitchell's latest unsuccessful attempts to narrow the gaps.
"President Abbas' position is clear: no negotiations under the shadow of settlement construction," a top Abbas aide, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said before Saturday's meeting. However, he said contacts with the US would continue.
Mitchell, who spent four days this week shuttling between Abbas and Netanyahu, is now trying to enlist the help of Arab leaders, and was to meet with Qatari leaders on Saturday.
In remarks published Friday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit issued surprising criticism of the Palestinian position of making talks contingent on the settlement building restrictions, saying the sides should concentrate on drawing the borders of a Palestinian state.
In the West Bank, PLO and Fatah officials have overwhelmingly spoken out against continued negotiations.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, said the international community's failure to get Israel to halt settlement expansion does not bode well for the talks, where much more explosive issues will be on the table, such as the partition of Jerusalem. Ashrawi said there's a limit to Palestinian flexibility.