Palestinians, Egypt Say Mideast Focus Still On Talks

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday he was still focused on a return to direct peace talks with Israel but looking at alternatives.

(REUTERS)


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday he was still focused on a return to direct peace talks with Israel but looking at alternatives.

Abbas, speaking alongside Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, repeated his demand for a halt to Jewish settlement building on occupied land before any return to peace talks. Abbas said his first choice was a return to those negotiations, which Washington hopes can resolve major issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within a year with the goal of establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

A new round of direct peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians got under way in Washington on September 2 only to stall a few weeks later when Israel lifted restrictions it had imposed on West Bank settlement building for 10 months.

Following Abbas' remarks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement he expects the Palestinians "to live up to their commitment of holding serious, direct negotiations, in good faith and without preconditions."

The Arab League, where Egypt is a dominant player, convened on October 9 and gave the United States a month to persuade Israel to halt settlement building. Netanyahu has so far resisted calls to do so.

His cabinet is dominated by parties which support the settlers, including his own Likud.

Aboul Gheit said that as yet, there was no discussion with the United States about what the Palestinians would do if the direct negotiations did not resume.

"We are still striving with the Americans and with the Israelis," he said. "The required breakthrough has not been achieved."

SECURITY COUNCIL

Were the negotiations to remain frozen, Abbas said his next option was to consult the United States with the aim of securing recognition of a Palestinian state. After that, the Palestinians would go to the Security Council, he said, without elaborating for what purpose.

"We are focusing our interest on the first option but this does not prevent us from preparing ourselves for all the options that come after," he said.

Netanyahu said in the statement that "any attempt to bypass direct talks by going to international bodies will not promote the true peace process."

"Stable and secure peace for both nations will only be reached through direct negotiations, and I hope we will return fully to that path soon," he said.

Commenting on previous Netanyahu remarks rebuking unilateral moves, Abbas said: "What does he mean by unilateral actions? If he means that we will go, in the future, to the Security Council, this could happen in months."

Israel has been taking unilateral actions for decades, Abbas said. Settlement building was one such action, he said.

Israel says the issue of settlements in the West Bank, territory it captured in a 1967 war, should be resolved through negotiations and not serve as a condition for talks. Palestinians fear settlements will deny them a viable state.