President Mahmoud Abbas said, Tuesday, that he would extend faltering peace talks with Israel only if it agreed to conditions, including a settlement freeze, which it promptly rejected.(AFP/Ma’an) Abbas listed his demands during a meeting with Israeli journalists at his headquarters, in Ramallah, just a week before a nine-month target for a peace deal.
His comments came as US envoy Martin Indyk went into a new meeting with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, in a bid to save the US-sponsored talks from collapse.
Abbas said he would agree to an extension of negotiations beyond the April 29 deadline if Israel frees a group of prisoners, as previously earmarked for release, and discusses the borders of a future Palestinian state.
‘There must be a total freeze of settlements,’ by Israel in the occupied West Bank including annexed East Jerusalem, Abbas said.
‘The borders between Israel and the state of Palestine must also be defined within a month, two or three,’ if the talks are to be extended, he said.
The PLO and the international community have long viewed Israeli settlement construction as a major obstacle to peace talks.
The peace process was engulfed by crisis, last month, after Israel refused to free a fourth and final group of 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners which would have completed an agreement that brought the sides back to negotiations, last July.
‘He who makes such conditions does not want peace,’ a senior Israeli official told AFP, on condition of anonymity.
The official said that settlement building in Jerusalem would not be frozen and that Israel had never agreed to discuss the border issue separately from other core issues.
These include Palestinians refugees, the fate of Jerusalem, security and mutual recognition.
‘It is impossible to define borders before an agreement on the other issues,’ the Israeli official said.
He also reiterated that Israel planned on expelling to the Gaza Strip, or abroad, some of the last batch of prisoners that Abbas wants freed.
‘This has been clearly explained to the Palestinians. Never has Israel committed not to carry out expulsions,’ he said.
Israel has announced plans for thousands of illegal settler homes in the occupied West Bank and killed over 60 Palestinians since peace talks began in July.
Israeli officials have also refused to discuss withdrawing Israeli soldiers and settlers from the occupied Jordan Valley, which forms around a third of the West Bank.
Editor’s note: More than half a million Israelis live in over 120 illegal settlements built since Israel first began occupying the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, in 1967.
The United Nations, and most countries, regard the Israeli settlements as illegal, because the territories were captured by Israel in the 1967 war, and are hence subject to the Geneva Conventions, which forbids construction on occupied lands, among other Israeli violations of international law.