'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)
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 Quartet demand for a total freeze on settlement construction, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Monday.
Abbas, who was speaking in the Jordanian capital of Amman after meeting with US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, said 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 Abbas appeared to have softened his position on the resumption of the US-sponsored “proximity” talks, and was waiting until things calmed down in the West Bank to return to the negotiating table.
Referring to the recent wave of violence, Abbas said the Palestinians maintained 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 was “economically independent, 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 [that] threaten its holy sites.”
Chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, meanwhile, said the Palestinians wanted to give indirect talks with Israel a chance.
Erekat said 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.”
He added that Israel’s insistence on “challenging international demands for a complete freeze of settlement construction would eliminate the two-state solution.”
The PA negotiator condemned settlement activity in east Jerusalem andadded, “We need to give the proximity talks the chance they deserve,but we want to make sure that the decisions of the Israeli governmentto construct 1,600 housing units in east 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.
AP contributed to this report.