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Arab League set to support Abbas in abandoning talks

Furious negotiations continue behind the scenes

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Arab League set to support Abbas in abandoning talks

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was confident of receiving the support of the Arab League for quitting direct talks with Israel as he arrived in Libya Thursday evening, renewing his pledge that a refusal by Israel to extend a freeze on building in Jewish settlements in the West Bank will mark the PA’s exit from the talks.

“We honored the government decision and took upon ourselves a commitment to the international community and the US to start the peace talks,” responded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The Palestinians waited over nine months and, immediately at the onset of the talks, set a precondition even though they had promised that there would be no preconditions. The questions need to be directed to the Palestinians: Why are you abandoning the talks? This is what needs to be asked today, and not of the Israeli government.”

Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren told the Washington Post on Wednesday that the US Administration has offered Israel “a number of suggestions, incentives if you would, that would enable the government to maybe pass a limited extension of two or three months.” He went on to say that; "The Palestinians said they would not begin negotiations unless there was a complete construction freeze in the settlements. In fact, the Palestinians wasted most of the freeze period and only began discussing talks after eight months.”

There were also reports in the Israeli media on Thursday that Netanyahu has asked Washington to consider exchanging a limited freeze extension for a renewal of that commitment in a letter to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004 in which President George W. Bush promised, in exchange for Sharon’s evacuation of Jewish settlers in the Gaza Strip, to not support the Palestinian demands for a right of return for Palestinians to within the pre-1967 borders, would not support a full return to those 1967 borders (which Israel understood to mean that Washington would accept Israel’s holding on to the major settlement blocs) and that the US would support Israel against international pressure over its nuclear program.

The Prime Minister’s Office refused to comment on these reports.

Settler leaders are reported to be relieved that the freeze has so far not been renewed.

“With God’s help, it will continue this way,” Binyamin Regional Council chairman Avi Ro’eh said on Thursday, adding that hundreds of new homes are being planned and built in the Binyamin Region.

In related news, the terraced fields in the Judean hills are being recommended to be classified as protected UNESCO heritage sites. Israeli preservationists hope it will lead to cooperation with the Palestinian Authority to protect the land, made out of some two million stones, that is under threat of being paved over to build homes or infrastructure. The Israel World Heritage Committee wants to preserve this ancient agricultural land that changed the landscape of the Judean hills and created a new ecological system. Some of the 554 kilometers terraced fields lie neglected because they are no longer used for farming.

 

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