Just four days after meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Washington, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday threatened again that the Palestinians will pull out of the direct talks if the construction freeze in the settlements, due to expire later this month, is not extended.“The talks will be for this month only,” Abbas was quoted by the PA’s Al-Ayyam newspaper as saying. “If the Israeli government extends the freeze, we will continue with the talks. But if they don’t extend, we will withdraw from the negotiations.”RELATED:Abbas: Borders most important to us, security for IsraelisEncountering Peace: What about the Strip?Abbas said that he made his position clear to US President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Netanyahu during last week’s launch of the direct talks in Washington.Abbas stressed that he would not make any concessions to Israel. “If they demand concessions on the rights of the refugees or the 1967 borders, I will quit. I can’t allow myself to make even one concession,” he said.Netanyahu responded indirectly, telling a visiting threeperson US Democratic congressional delegation he hopes Abbas “will not choose to abandon the road to peace.”Netanyahu told the delegation, made up of Rush Holt (D-New Jersey), Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Florida) and Steven Israel (D-New York), that there were “many issues that we did not agree upon during our discussions, and the only way to reach agreement on them is though direct, continuous talks, without breaks and without delays.”According to a statement put out by Netanyahu’s office, the prime minister said again that he thought an agreement could be reached within a year through direct and continuous talks.Abbas said in his interview that there currently was indeed a construction freeze in the settlements.“We fear that the freeze decision would be abrogated and that they would resume settlement construction in every place. No one can force us to return to the negotiations if the freeze is not extended,” he said.Abbas said the direct talks would begin with the issues of borders and security. He added that the Palestinians were primarily interested in the issue of borders, while Israel was more concerned about security.“With regards to the borders, we have to agree on the 1967 borders and draw them,” Abbas said. “If we agree on the borders, that means we have found a solution to the issues of Jerusalem, water and settlements. This will leave us with the issue of refugees, which will be dealt with during the second phase [of the talks].” The PA president said that with regards to security, the Palestinians had made it clear that they would not accept, in a final settlement, any Israeli civilian or military presence in the Palestinian territories.Abbas said that when he decided to go to the direct talks in Washington, he knew that the chances of success were not high.“We said that we must seize the opportunity even if there’s a 1 percent chance for hope,” he explained.He confirmed that one of the reasons why he went to Washington was the international pressure on him.“There isn’t one country in the world whose president didn’t phone me to say that it would be better if we went so that no one could blame us,” he said.Abbas also admitted that he did not receive the full backing of Fatah and the PLO to launch the direct talks.Meanwhile, prominent Fatah figures continued to criticize Abbas for agreeing to negotiate directly and unconditionally with Israel.For the second time in less than a week, jailed Fatah operative Marwan Barghouti attacked the decision to go to Washington. The direct talks were “nothing but a mirage,” he said.
Barghouti, who is serving five life terms plus 40 years in Israel prison for five murders and an attempted murder, said that there was no peace partner in Israel.He also called for escalating “popular resistance” against Israel.Barghouti expressed “regret” that some Arab countries had pressured the Palestinian leadership to go to the talks in Washington.On the Israeli side, meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who on Sunday said that a peace agreement with the Palestinians was not conceivable next year, or “in the next generation,” kept up the heat on Monday, reiterating his skepticism in radio interviews.Lieberman, speaking to Army Radio, charged that the Palestinians were not serious about the talks, and were just biding their time, looking for a way to blame Israel for their failure.And on Israel Radio he said that the settlement construction moratorium wouldn’t be extended.“A promise is a promise,” Lieberman said. “We will not agree to any extension.”Netanyahu and other government spokesmen said repeatedly after the moratorium was announced last year that it was a one-time gesture, and would last no more than 10 months.Netanyahu, meanwhile, said in another meeting on Monday – this time with a private group called the Israel Security Council and headed by former National Security Council head Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan – that an agreement with the Palestinians was an Israeli strategic interest, but that what was important was not the agreement itself, but its implementation.For that reason, it would be necessary to ensure that all security arrangements agreed upon be implemented on the ground, he said.