Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday ruled out negotiations with Israel as long as it refuses to freeze settlement building, but did not specify if he would agree to indirect talks.
“We will not accept negotiations as long as settlements continue,” Abbas told reporters in Cairo after more than one hour of talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
He said the discussions focused on “what comes after” Washington admitted on Tuesday that weeks-long efforts to persuade Israel to freeze settlements in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem had failed.
But Abbas appeared to leave the door open to a final decision on resuming talks with Israel in some form or other, saying he would first hold further consultations with Arab and Palestinian officials.
“There must be clear references for peace ... and we will discuss all that with the follow-up committee, the Palestinian leadership and after that there will be a decision,” he said.
Direct talks were re-launched on Sept. 2 after a 20-month hiatus but stalled three weeks later when Israel refused to renew a moratorium on settlement building.
Egypt’s government daily Al-Ahram quoted the Palestinian Ambassador to Cairo Barakat al-Farra as saying that Abbas would travel later to Amman for consultations with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
Abbas arrived in Cairo from Athens on Wednesday and immediately went into talks with Arab League chief Amr Mussa who later told reporters that a ministerial committee on the peace process would convene next week.
Washington announced on Tuesday that weeks-long efforts to coax Israel into imposing new curbs on settlement construction had failed, leaving direct peace talks deadlocked.
The Palestinians have repeatedly stressed they will not resume direct peace talks unless there is a halt to building in the occupied West Bank as well as a freeze in annexed east Jerusalem.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat has said Washington should recognize an independent Palestinian state in response to Israel’s refusal to freeze settlement building.
Erakat said Abbas would hold separate talks with US Middle East envoy George Mitchell and Arab leaders over the next few days.
Erakat and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad were heading to Washington yesterday for talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and top negotiator Isaac Molho preceded them there.
The Palestinian and Israeli officials will be attending a conference in Washington during which Clinton was to give a keynote address outlining a new strategy for advancing the peace process.
Meanwhile, Israel launched retaliatory air strikes on the Gaza Strip yesterday, hours after its top soldier warned troops to be prepared for possible “wider action” on the enclave’s volatile border.
The air strikes were launched after a mortar fired by Gaza militants wounded an Israeli man.