RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian officials on Wednesday expressed skepticism about the resumption of peace talks and signaled they would accept nothing less than an extension of the West Bank settlement construction moratorium ahead of the scheduled arrival of US Mideast Envoy George Mitchell and European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton to the region on Thursday.Veteran Palestinian negotiator Nabil Sha'ath said Israel should be blamed for any breakdown of the negotiations if it insists on expanding settlements on lands claimed by the Palestinians for their state.RELATED:Work begins on hundreds of settlement homesAbbas: Israel's choice is peace or settlements"Unless the settlement activities stop completely, there is no use in continuing these negotiations," Sha'ath told The Associated Press."There is no progress on this issue," he added. "Apparently the Israelis are determined to swallow and steal the land and consider that much more important than peace."Hanna Amireh, a member of the PLO body, said there was widespread opposition to resuming talks without a settlement curb. "The consensus is that since the entire world is in favor of a Palestinian state and against settlements, then let us throw this problem in the face of the world and see what they can do about it," Amireh said. Mitchell, is making a secretive last-minute attempt to rescue the negotiations. He will travel to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's West Bank headquarters on Thursday, after meeting with Israeli leaders on Wednesday. Mitchell said after talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that he is undaunted by what he described as "bumps in the road," but offered no glimpse of a possible compromise.Ashton, announced she is heading to the region "as a matter of priority" after talking to Mitchell and international Mideast envoy Tony Blair. Starting Thursday, the EU foreign policy chief will meet with Netanyahu, Abbas and Mitchell over two days to try to prevent the collapse of negotiations. She reiterated in a statement that the EU regrets Israel's decision not to extend a 10-month-old moratorium on West Bank settlement construction that expired on September 26.
In comments published Wednesday on the website of the pro-Hamas newspaper Felesteen, Hamas's Gaza strongman Mahmoud Zahar renewed his call to Abbas to quit the negotiations.Commenting on the Palestinian uprising that followed the failed US-led peace effort at Camp David in 2000, Zahar claimed the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat instructed Hamas to carry out "a number of military operations in the heart of the Hebrew state" after he allegedly "felt the failure of his negotiating" with Israel. At the time, Arafat had said he sought to restrain Palestinian attacks so peace talks could succeed.On Saturday, Abbas will consult top officials from his Fatah Party and the Palestine Liberation Organization's decision-making body before sitting down with Arab League foreign ministers on Monday in Cairo to review the negotiations. Abbas on Wednesday was quoted as saying, without elaborating, that he is ready to make a "historic decision" at the Monday meeting.