'Palestinians accept 2-month freeze extension proposal'

Top PA negotiator says acceptance is provisional on sides reaching agreement; Abbas threatens to step down if peace talks fail.

Netanyahu, Clinton, Abbas talks (photo credit: GPO)
Netanyahu, Clinton, Abbas talks
(photo credit: GPO)
The Palestinians have accepted a US proposal calling on Israel to extend a West Bank settlement slowdown for another two months, top PA negotiator Nabil Sha'ath said Thursday.
Sha'ath said the Palestinians accept such a limited extension provided the two sides can reach an agreement on the borders between Israel and a future Palestine in those two months.
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On Wednesday, Abbas indicated that he intends to step down from his post if peace talks with Israel fail, Army Radio reported.
Speaking at a Palestinian National Council meeting in Jordan, Abbas said that it is possible he will only serve as PA President for one more week, according to the report.
Abbas was scheduled to depart Amman on Thursday for Libya where an Arab League meeting was expected to take place on Friday to discuss the peace talks. The Arab League foreign ministers meeting was scheduled in order to give an opinion on whether the PA should continue with the talks if Israel does not renew its settlement freeze that expired on September 26.
In the meeting with PLO figures, Abbas demanded an official commitment to renew the building moratorium.
The PA leader reportedly claimed that the Palestinians gave all the guarantees and fulfilled all their commitments, but Israel has not taken one step towards peace.
Several senior Palestinians said the US has proposed the two-month extension of the building moratorium.
Netanyahu urges Palestinians to stay in talks
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu speaking in Lod Thursday urged the Palestinians to stay in direct peace negotiations in an attempt to find a solution.
"We very much hope that the Palestinians will stay in the peace talks and I think that it is important to try and advance an agreement that could lead to an end to the conflict between us and them."
"However, today the questions needs to be directed to the Palestinians: Why are you abandoning the talks?  Don't turn your backs on peace; stay in the talks. This is what needs to be asked today, and not of the Israeli Government," Netanyahu said.
"We honored the Government decision and took upon ourselves a commitment to the international community and the US to start the peace talks," Netanyahu continued.
Netanyahu said "the Palestinians waited over nine months and, immediately at the onset of the talks, set a pre-condition even though they had promised that there would be no pre-conditions."
 US working frantically to salvage talks
A US official close to the negotiations said Wednesday that  Netanyahu seems likely to cut a deal to keep the talks going. Palestinian officials said much the same, and Israeli officials said Netanyahu does not want talks to founder.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met Wednesday with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who represents the "Quartet" of international Mideast peacemakers, to try to find a solution. On Tuesday she spoke with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.
"We're at a critical stage in the process," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Wednesday.
"We want to see the negotiations continue," he said. "We don't want to see the parties step away from this process, and we continue to offer ideas to both sides as to how to navigate through the settlement issue that currently confronts us."
US officials caution that they do not know exactly what Netanyahu will do. For some Israeli politicians in his complex governing coalition, the collapse of talks, and an opportunity to blame both the United States and the Palestinians for it, would be a welcome outcome.
Compromise on Jordan Valley security forces
A former US official with knowledge of the secretive American proposals now before Netanyahu said they are extremely vague, particularly about the composition of a security force in the Jordan Valley after a peace deal is signed.
The former official said the US has proposed to "recognize Israel's security concerns and needs in the Jordan Valley as they exist today." The official said the proposal stops well short of endorsing an Israel Army presence there.
The language could be used, however, to signal that the United States would not object to international peacekeepers in the Jordan Valley, possibly with Israeli participation.
Abbas, however, said at the PLO meeting that he is against the proposal that Israel maintain a presence in the Jordan Valley after a peace agreement, Israel Radio reported.
Yasser Abed-Rabo, a chief PLO official, said at the meeting that the whole world understands that there will be no peace talks if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu continues his current policies.