Abbas Urges End To Settlements

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has said that Israel must choose between "peace and the continuation of illegal settlements" in the occupied territories if it wants international talks to succeed. Abbas made no mention of a threat to quit the US-organised talks, but in an address to the UN general assembly on Saturday he condemned "the mentality of expansion and domination" that controls Israel's policies. The US has launched a desperate bid to head off a potential crisis if Israel refuses to extend a moratorium on settlement construction in the occupied West Bank that ends at midnight on Sunday. Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and George Mitchell, the US special envoy to the peace process, have both met Abbas and Israeli officials in New York in recent days in an attempt to hold the negotiations together. "The discussions are pretty intense right now," Jeffrey Feltman, the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, said. "We are urging Israel to extend the moratorium and we are also making clear to the Palestinians that we do not believe that it is in their interest to walk out of the talks." Despite not mentioning the moratorium in his UN address, Abbas later told Al Jazeera that the issue was key to the continuation of the direct talks. "We're waiting for the Israeli government to agree to continue the moratorium, so that we will be able to carry out negotiations in a calm atmosphere regarding the core issues," he said. Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, whose right-wing coalition government includes pro-settler parties, has so far deflected pleas from Barack Obama, the US president, to extend the freeze, but he has said renewed construction might be on a reduced scale. Al Jazeera's Nick Spicer, reporting from the UN in New York, said that Israel is "getting a little bit creative with the date on which the settlement freeze would expire".