PLO calls on Abbas to halt talks if freeze not extended

Barak calls on Palestinian leadership to remain in negotiations; says a compromise that will ensure continued talks can be reached in a week.

Netanyahu Abbas Shake 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Netanyahu Abbas Shake 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The PLO Executive Committee decided on Saturday to persuade Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas not to continue with direct negotiations because of Israel's refusal to continue the building freeze in West Bank settlements.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a Palestinian presidential spokesperson, said that the talks will not continue as long as Israel continues to build on land that is expected to one day become a Palestinian state.
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The comments came after Abbas met with dozens of senior Palestinians in Ramallah and sought their backing for his refusal to keep negotiating with Israel without a slowdown in West Bank settlement construction.
Abbas briefed 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," Abu Rudaineh said before the meeting. However, he said contacts with the US would continue.
Following the Palestinian threats to leave the negotiations, Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Saturday called on the Palestinian leadership and all those involved in the talks to take responsibility and not to allow negotiations between the sides to come to an end.
"We all must act with discretion and perseverance in order to overcome the obstacles before us and continue negotiations in order to get results," Barak said in an official statement.
Barak added that, through intensive talks, the sides could find a compromise within a week that would ensure continued negotiations.
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.