Israel - Palestine

Abbas holds back on threat to walk out of Mideast peace talks

Reuters

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Monday he would take a week to decide whether to carry out his threat to pull out of peace talks after Israeli resumed settlement construction. Meanwhile French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for the European Union to have a greater role in the talks.

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Israel's ten-month freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank expired Sunday night.

As bulldozers across the West Bank lumbered into action, Abbas told reporters in Paris he would not rush to respond to Israel's failure to extend the freeze, but would first consult Palestinian and Arab leaders.

He is to discuss the move with his Fatah movement and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) this week and meet with Arab foreign ministers on 4 October.

After talks with Abbas in Paris Monday, Sarkozy paid hommage to peace efforts by US President Barack Obama, but urged greater EU involvement.

"I observe that, 10 years after Camp David, we have made no progress and perhaps we've even gone backwards in terms of resuming dialogue. You can see there's a methodological problem," he told journalists.

As construction of settlements started again, Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu urged settlers to show "restraint and responsibility".

Nevertheless, around 2000 people, including hundreds from Netanyahu's Likud party and a large contingent of evangelical Christians, rallied in the northern West Bank settlement of Raveva to mark the end of the freeze.

"We are getting back to business as usual and building, but we will respect the prime minister's request," said David Ha'ivry, head of a settler regional council.

Polls and analysts suggest calm will prevail among Palestinians, partly resulting from low expectations going into the latest round of peace talks to begin with.

"The average Palestinian is not interested in the negotiations because he knows they won't achieve anything," said Abu Ahmad, a member of the Palestinian security forces.

But, a poll last week showed that while most Palestinians do not believe the peace talks will be effective, a larger majority oppose attacks on Israelis.

"Palestinians paid a huge price during the Al-Aqsa intifada," Ahmad added, referring to the uprising that followed the collapse of talks in the year 2000.

"There were thousands of martyrs and wounded people and prisoners, but it didn't end the occupation or stop the settlements."

Jewish settlement of occupied Palestinian land is one of the most bitter aspects of the animosities between Israelis and Palestinians.

Currently, around 500,000 Israelis live in more than 120 settlements across the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories the Palestinians claim for their promised state.

The settlements are held to be illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

Preceding days saw a high level of diplomatic activity among countries and foreign entities implicated in the talks, including top officials of the United States, Egypt, Jordan and European Union.

"We remain focused on the goal of advancing negotiations toward a two-state solution and encourage the parties to take constructive action toward that goal," said US State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley.

"We keep pushing for the talks to continue," he said in a statement.

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