Abbas: Talks threatened by settlements

Ramon pushes for land swap deal; admits Israel hasn't met obligations, blames Jewish extremists.

ramon hand on head 224 8 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ramon hand on head 224 8
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israeli settlement expansion poses a serious obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday, reiterating his call for a settlement freeze. In Israel, Cabinet Minister Haim Ramon said construction would continue, particularly in the large West Bank settlements that Israel hopes to keep under any agreement with the Palestinians. Abbas said he placed his hopes on an Israeli-Palestinian-US committee that is to deal with the implementation of the first phase of the so-called "road map" peace plan. Under the plan, Israel is to freeze settlements, while the Palestinians must disarm and rein in gunmen. "When we return to the country, I hope that these (settlement) activities stop, and that the trilateral committee ... will begin its work, in order to implement the commitments of the first phase of the road map, whether related to us or to the Israelis," he said. Abbas said that continued settlement expansion poses a "real obstacle," and that construction must stop. In Jerusalem, Ramon told Army Radio that widespread construction in the West Bank was taking place, but said almost all building activity is taking place in "settlement blocs that we want in the end of the process to see as part of Israel." He claimed the Palestinians accept this position. "The Palestinians won't say that this is good, but there is no doubt that the Palestinians understand that in the end of the peace process, the settlement blocs will be under Israeli sovereignty in return for an exchange of territory," Ramon said. "What I propose is that we reach an agreement with the Palestinians today over the principle of settlement blocs under Israeli sovereignty and in return an exchange of territory," he added. "Then it will be very clear where we build and where we don't build." Ramon gave no details on how much West Bank land Israel would claim, or how much it is prepared to provide to the Palestinians in compensation. The road map also requires Israel to remove several dozen tiny settlement outposts scattered throughout the West Bank. Ramon acknowledged that Israel has failed to meet this obligation. "We are not able to deal with our commitments," he said. He accused "a minority of extremists" of "dictating Israel's way in an undemocratic manner." Ramon also said Israel should take further economic sanctions to undermine Hamas. "We're only at the beginning," he said. Abbas praised the results of Monday's pledging conference, where donor countries committed $7.4 billion in aid to the Palestinians over three years. "Yesterday's meeting was a political and economic success for the Palestinian state, because it wasn't just a meeting to collect money but a real demonstration of support for the peace process by the countries that participated in the conference," he told reporters at a news conference in Paris. Abbas, meanwhile, said that he supports a French proposal to deploy an international force to help shore up Palestinian security forces. "We welcome this idea," Abbas told reporters. "We are working for this to become the international position in the near future." French President Nicolas Sarkozy floated the idea at Monday's donor conference. Sarkozy has said such a deployment should take place "at the right time when the conditions are in place." Israelis have been cool to the idea of an international force, and it is unlikely that the plan could get off the ground without Israeli approval.