US rebuffs 'freeze' precondition

Crowley insists settlement construction will be discussed on Sept. 2.

Mahmoud Abbas what 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Mahmoud Abbas what 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
While the US was "mindful" of Palestinian demands for a construction freeze in the West Bank, State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley said Monday the issue would be discussed on September 2 in Washington, ruling it out as a precondition for direct talks.
"The issue of settlements, the issue of the moratorium... has been a topic of discussion and will be a topic of discussion when the leaders meet with Secretary Clinton on September 2," Crowley said. RELATED:Editorial: Trying again
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For a second straight day, Palestinian leaders have threatened to walk away from upcoming talks if Israel does not extend the settlement construction moratorium on September 26. This has led a government official on Monday to question if the Palestinians “were not looking for excuses to pull out of the talks even before they began.”
A little more than a week before Israel and the Palestinian Authority are scheduled to relaunch direct talks in Washington, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that “if Israel resumes settlement activities in the Palestinian territories, including east Jerusalem, we cannot continue negotiations.”
He was speaking at a press conference in Ramallah, and quoting from a letter PA President Mahmoud Abbas sent to US President Barack Obama.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu must choose “between settlements and peace,” Erekat said. “We hope that Mr. Netanyahu will choose reconciliation and not further confrontation. If Mr.
Netanyahu decides to produce new settlement tenders come September 26, he will have decided to stop the negotiations.”
Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev said in response to Erekat that the issue of the settlements “is one of the issues on the agenda of the talks, and has to be discussed. The fate of the settlements will be determined in a peace agreement, and that is the correct way to approach the matter.”
Following Erekat’s statement, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement saying that “Israel does not place any precondition to starting the direct talks.”
The statement also said that Netanyahu has stressed the importance of security arrangements and disarmament as part of a future agreement, to prevent terrorism and the firing of rockets from territories in Palestinian hands.
Vice Premier and Regional Affairs Minister Silvan Shalom issued a statement after meeting Quartet envoy Tony Blair, saying he told Blair that preconditions do not foster dialogue, and that the Palestinians did not make pre-conditions before sitting with Israel at Wye Plantation, Camp David or even Annapolis.
“We are happy with the start of direct negotiations, and Israel is prepared for, and sees importance in, direct talks. But understand that placing preconditions, before the sides even sit around the negotiating table, will bring about failure,” Shalom told Blair.
He said that the Palestinians needed to recognize the importance of the talks, where “both sides will present their demands.”
Shalom also said that Israel would not agree to Palestinian requests that Israel sell Gaza more electricity to reduce shortages there, saying this would only strengthen Hamas.
Calling on the international community to place pressure on Hamas to recognize Israel, forswear terrorism, and accept previous agreements, Shalom said that he held Hamas responsible for the conditions inside Gaza.
“Israel can’t allow itself to cooperate with a terrorist organization that wants to destroy it,” he said.
Netanyahu and his wife Sara went Monday on a two-day vacation to the Galilee.
The couple took the vacation without their two children, one of whom is currently in the IDF. The Netanyahus – according to a statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office – toured historical sites in the North.