Efforts to revive Mideast talks stall

Netanyahu, Abbas dismiss US pitch to negotiate anew

‘We won’t agree to resume negotiations without a full settlement freeze,’ said Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. ‘We won’t agree to resume negotiations without a full settlement freeze,’ said Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
By Ben Hubbard
Associated Press / January 13, 2010

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RAMALLAH, West Bank - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday spurned a new US effort to revive Mideast peace talks, sticking to positions that have blocked a return to the negotiating table.

Abbas said he would not resume negotiations unless Israel freezes settlement construction. Netanyahu said he would never agree to a partition of Jerusalem, whose eastern half is sought by the Palestinians as a future capital.

With both sides digging in, an upcoming diplomatic mission by US Mideast envoy George Mitchell could be doomed from the outset.

Mitchell has said he is trying to persuade both sides to resume talks aimed at ending their decades-old conflict. Previous talks broke off in December 2008.

However, the United States has failed to get Israel to halt construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, lands the Palestinians want for their state. Israel captured both from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war.

Instead, Netanyahu has agreed to a 10-month moratorium on new construction in just the West Bank. Israel continues to build for Jews in east Jerusalem.

Abbas said yesterday that he will not resume talks under the current conditions. “No negotiations,’’ he told reporters at his headquarters in Ramallah. “We won’t agree to resume negotiations without a full settlement freeze, especially in Jerusalem, for a certain period.’’

The Obama administration has recently suggested bypassing the settlement issue by getting the two sides to discuss the borders of a Palestinian state, including a partition of Jerusalem.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said that by focusing on the endgame, such talks would defuse the problem of settlements.

But Abbas’s insistence on a settlement freeze suggested the US approach will not work.

The United States lost credibility among Palestinians by backing down on settlements, an issue they see as an important test of Washington’s resolve. Under the US-backed “road map’’ plan, Israel is required to freeze all settlement construction.

Later yesterday, Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying that “in any peace agreement, a united Jerusalem will remain under Israeli sovereignty in secure Israeli borders that will not include a return to the 1967 borders.’’

The statement was issued in response to an Israeli newspaper report that suggested Netanyahu had softened his positions.

Also yesterday, Israel arrested two prominent Palestinian organizers of weekly protests against Israel’s West Bank separation barrier. Activists accuse Israel of trying to stifle political dissent with an arrest campaign. Dozens of protesters have been rounded up since the summer.

The West Bank has been largely pacified, and the barrier protests in the villages of Naalin and Bilin are among the last pockets of unrest. The barrier separates Palestinians from nearly 10 percent of the West Bank, in what they view as a land grab.