US envoy in Mideast as Abbas warns Israel over settlements



JERUSALEM, Joseph Krauss- US envoy George Mitchell arrived in the Middle East on Tuesday to try to save peace talks as Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas said Israel would be to blame if negotiations collapsed over settlements.
The talks, relaunched on September 2 after months of tortuous shuttle diplomacy, were on the brink of foundering after a 10-month Israeli moratorium on the building of new Jewish settler homes in the West Bank expired on Sunday.



US envoy in Mideast as Abbas warns Israel over settlements
Washington said Mitchell would meet Israeli leaders on Wednesday, the Palestinians on Thursday, and hold talks with Arab leaders before Abbas is to announce if the Palestinians will remain in the US-sponsored talks.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Mitchell "will be consulting broadly in the region" before Abbas makes a speech at an Arab League meeting in Cairo on Monday.
Abbas had said he would not respond to the renewal of building until he meets with Palestinian leaders this week and Arab foreign ministers on Monday, but warned Israel against continued construction in the settlements.
"Whoever decides to continue to build settlements and provide aid and protection to them decides to halt the negotiations," Abbas told AFP on a flight to Amman from Paris, where he had met with French leaders.
"But we are still determined to see the success of genuine and serious negotiations," the Palestinian president added.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netahyahu's office said he had accepted an invitation from French President Nicolas Sarkozy to attend a meeting with Abbas next month in Paris.
The statement did not give a date for the meeting but quoted Netanyahu as saying he saw the continuation of peace talks as "essential."
"I believe with all my heart that it is within our power to reach a framework agreement within a year and to transform the history of the Middle East," it quoted Netanyahu as adding.
Abbas said he would deliver a "very important speech" before the Arab League Follow-up Committee for the peace process on October 4 in which he would announce "historic decisions."
He told French radio the moratorium should be reinstated for the duration of the talks, and added Netanyahu "should understand that peace is more important than settlement building."
Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the moratorium by telephone late Monday in talks the State Department spokesman described as "very significant, very detailed, very direct."
"The prime minister understands what our policies are. We understand his ongoing political difficulties," said Crowley, who has praised Abbas for showing "restraint" and not yet backing out of the negotiations.
The moratorium impasse has thrown the peace talks into jeopardy and the resumption of building has drawn widespread criticism, including from the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.
The Palestinians have previously called on Israel to extend the moratorium for three to four months so the two sides can reach an agreement on final borders to clarify where Israel can build.
Netanyahu has refused to renew the partial freeze, while urging Abbas to stick with the talks, which were relaunched after a 20-month hiatus.
Mitchell met Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday, according to the defence ministry, but no details of their discussion were released.
Netanyahu's office said the premier would meet the envoy on Wednesday "in an extra effort to find a solution to continuing talks" with the Palestinians.
Mitchell was also expected to visit Abbas in the West Bank on Thursday but, as on previous visits, he was unlikely to comment publicly on the content of the talks.
In New York on Tuesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman insisted combatting Iran's nuclear drive and its support of militant groups should take precedence over the peace talks.
In a speech to the UN General Assembly, Lieberman said a peace deal could take decades and repeated his controversial idea of joining mostly Arab regions of Israel to a future Palestinian state.
Netanyahu's office later distanced the premier from his own minister's remarks, saying they did not reflect the official Israeli position.
"The content of the foreign minister's speech to the United Nations was not coordinated with the prime minister," a statement said, adding: "Netanyahu is the one who handles the diplomatic negotiations."
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Tuesday, September 28th 2010
Joseph Krauss
           


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