Tue, Nov 23, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Abbas demands Jerusalem be part of settlement freeze

AP, RAMALLAH, WEST BANK

The Washington administration’s troubled attempt to revive Middle East peace talks took another blow on Sunday when the Palestinian president rejected the latest US plan to get the sides talking again.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said a proposed 90-day freeze on Israeli settlement construction wouldn’t get him back to the negotiating table unless it includes East Jerusalem, a condition Israel staunchly opposes.

Palestinians claim east Jerusalem for their future capital. For decades, Israel has built Jewish sections around the city’s periphery, and about 200,000 Jews live there now. Palestinians consider the large neighborhoods to be illegal settlements.

The impasse highlights the gaps the US must bridge — not to just to achieve a peace deal, but even to get the sides to sit down and talk about one.

In Cairo on Sunday, Abbas said any construction freeze must include east Jerusalem “first and foremost,” along with the West Bank.

“If the moratorium does not apply to all Palestinian territories, including east Jerusalem, we will not accept it,” Abbas said after consultations with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The issue of Israeli settlements has bedeviled the latest round of peace talks since their launch in September. They broke down three weeks later when a previous 10-month slowdown on West Bank construction expired.

Since then, the US has been pushing Israel to impose a new, 90-day moratorium to draw the Palestinians back to talks. The US hopes the sides can reach a deal on future borders during that time, in effect determining which settlements Israel will get to keep in a peace agreement and defusing the issue of where it can build.

To entice Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pro-settlement coalition government, the US has offered a fleet of next-generation stealth warplanes and promises to veto anti-Israel resolutions at the UN.

Speaking to lawmakers from his Likud Party late on Sunday, Netanyahu said he was waiting for the US to put the offer in writing so he could bring it before his Cabinet.

Netanyahu also said the proposed 90-day moratorium was not specifically meant to deal with borders.

“There is no such request and there is no such commitment,” he said. Instead, the sides would discuss “all topics of substance as a whole.”

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