'Peace talks after settlement freeze'

Abbas meets Mitchell, says he's waiting to hear if Israel heeds Quartet call.

Abbas Mitchell 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Abbas Mitchell 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Monday that the Palestinians would agree to hold indirect talks with Israel if they received assurances that the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would abide by the recent demand of the Quartet for a total freeze of settlement construction.
Abbas, who was speaking in the Jordanian capital of Amman after meeting with US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, said that he was now waiting to hear whether Israel would heed the Quartet's call and freeze all settlement construction, including in east Jerusalem.
"Today we had a good and thorough meeting," Abbas said. "Now we are waiting for a response [from Mitchell] in the next few days. We hope this response would be seen as a commitment to what was mentioned in the recent statement issued by the Quartet. This is what we are searching for."
Abbas's remarks were viewed by some Palestinians as sign that he was ready to resume the talks with Israel if the US administration promised that the Netanyahu government would not go ahead with plans to build 1,600 new homes in Jerusalem's Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in the near future.
They said that Abbas appears to have softened his position regarding the resumption of the US-sponsored "proximity" talks and was waiting until things calm down in the West Bank to return to the negotiating table.
Referring to the recent wave of violence, Abbas said that the Palestinians maintain the right to launch a "popular resistance" against Israel.
He called on Israel to avoid "dragging us to where we don't want to go and to where they won't like."
Mitchell told reporters that the US would continue talking to Israel and the Palestinians as "we seek to establish the conditions which will make possible the early commencement of proximity talks."
He did not elaborate, but added: "We urge all sides to exercise restraint. What is needed now is a period of calm, quiet in which we can go forward in the effort in which we are engaged."
The US, he added, wants to enter proximity talks at the earliest possible time in a manner in which "we hope will lead to direct negotiations and ultimately to an agreement that leads to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East."
Washington, he said, envisaged a future Palestinian state that is economically independent, and geographically contiguous.
The US envoy also met with Jordan's King Abdullah II.
A palace statement quoted Abdullah as telling Mitchell that Israel must stop all unilateral measures in the Palestinian territories, especially provocative moves aimed at changing Jerusalem's identity and threatening its holy sites.
Chief  PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, meanwhile, said the Palestinians  wanted to give a chance to indirect talks with Israel.
Erekat said that Israel would be judged by its actions and not by its words. Otherwise, he said, "Israeli talk about the peace process and the negotiations are empty words."
Erekat added that Israel's insistence on "challenging internationaldemands for a complete freeze of settlement contraction would eliminatethe two-state solution."
Erekat condemned Israel's settlementactivities in east Jerusalem and added: "We need to give the proximitytalks the chance they deserve, but we want to make sure that thedecisions of the Israeli government to construct 1,600 housing units ineast Jerusalem and more to come is really stopped."
He said the Palestinians also wanted assurances that similar Israeli moves would be prevented in the future.