PA: No Talks without Israeli Building Halt

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RAMALLAH - The Palestinian Authority would reject President Barack Obama's efforts to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process unless he can pressure Israel to agree to a total, permanent building freeze in Jewish communities in biblical Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and Jerusalem, a senior advisor to PA President Mahmoud Abbas said on Monday.

President Obama has been trying to coax Israel into at least a temporarily halt to construction in West Bank settlements in order to bring Israeli and Palestinian negotiators back to the negotiating table.

Press reports have indicated that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu might agree to a suspension for six to nine months in the West Bank but not in Jerusalem neighborhoods.

But former Palestinian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said that a temporary halt is not enough.

"Without Mr. Obama this time fully, categorically stopping all settlement activities, it will be very, very difficult - impossible in fact - to restart the negotiating process," Shaath told foreign correspondents in Ramallah on Monday.

Shaath said that the Palestinians want Obama to clearly state that there will be no Israeli settlement activity, including what Israel calls natural growth - the building of schools and other infrastructure to support existing communities, as well as homes.

If Obama comes to the Palestinians and says he can only get the Israelis to agree to a temporary settlement freeze, Shaath said that the Palestinians would reject the offer.

"I'll say, Mr. Obama, we love you and we thought that you will be really the person to lead us into…paradise, whatever, I'm sorry that this is not enough to lead [us into] the peace process," Shaath said.

Netanyahu has been reluctant to agree to a settlement freeze in existing communities, which Israel believes will be under its sovereignty in any final deal with the Palestinians.

(Israel has committed itself not to establish new communities in its biblical heartland.)

However, Netanyahu has emphatically drawn the line with the issue of Jerusalem. Palestinians want the eastern part of the city for the capital of a hoped-for Palestinian state. Israel considers all of Jerusalem, including the ancient Old City, as its eternal inheritance.

Press reports have indicated that Netanyahu may have already agreed to a settlement freeze.

Following a meeting with Netanyahu on Monday, European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana said he was under the impression that Israel would agree to a settlement freeze by the mid-September meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.

On Sunday, Netanyahu said there was no deal yet.
 
"There are many rumors and reports," Netanyahu told Israel Army Radio. "We haven't agreed to anything."

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Julie Stahl

Julie Stahl

CBN News Jerusalem Bureau

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