Abbas to Mitchell: No further talks until building halted

PA says Israeli building in settlements equivalent to refusal to continue peace negotiations; Netanyahu tells Mitchell that Israel wants to continue direct talks; Egyptian FM says freeze not an important issue.

Mitchell Abbas Aug 2010 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Mitchell Abbas Aug 2010
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday told US envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell that the there will be no further peace negotiations with Israel as long as building in settlements continues, Israel Radio reported.
Mitchell met with Abbas in Ramallah on Friday after having met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the hopes of finding a compromise that could save the talks which have stalled following Israel's decision earlier this week not to extend the 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement building.
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Following Abbas's meeting with Mitchell, a Palestinian Authority spokesman said that no breakthrough to revive the talks had been made and that Israel's insistence on continuing construction in the settlements is preventing progress towards reaching a peace agreement.
Senior Palestinian Authority official Yasser Abed Rabbo added that Israel's refusal to halt settlement building is equivalent to a refusal to continue the peace talks which began early in September.
Earlier Friday, Netanyahu told Mitchell that Israel wants to continue negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
In his opening words, Netanyahu said: "We are making a joint effort with Senator Mitchell to continue talks with Abbas. We want to continue talks, and I want it."
"We have a mission for peace," Netanyahu added.
Also on Friday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Aboul Gheit criticized the Palestinian Authority for its "insistence" on a moratorium on building in the settlements.
In an interview with London-based newspaper Al-Hayat, Aboul Gheit said waiting for a renewed freeze will only complicate peace talks, and that the most important issue is borders. Aboul Gheit also hinted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas does not think a settlement freeze is essential.
The meetings with Mitchell come following reports on Thursday that US President Barack Obama had sent Israel a draft letter in which he offered security guarantees – including a continued Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley after the creation of a Palestinian state – if Israel in exchange re-instituted the moratorium on new settlement construction for 60 days.
A White House and a State Department official denied the existence of such a letter.