RAMALLAH, West Bank, (Reuters) – President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday said the Palestinians would resume suspended peace talks with Israel if it halts settlement building and recognises pre-1967 borders as a basis for a Palestinian state.
Addressing a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s central council, Abbas said he would not accept any return to violence against Israel.
“When Israel stops settlement activity for a specific period and when it recognises the borders we are calling for, and these are the legal borders, there would be nothing to prevent us from going to negotiations to complete what we agreed to at Annapolis,” Abbas told the PLO legislature in Ramallah. “A return to violence? I won’t accept it,” he said.
Abbas, who is under pressure from the United States and the European Union to resume talks that have been frozen for the past year, said he was not setting terms but simply reiterating Israel’s obligations under the “road map” agreement for talks.
It was Israel that was setting pre-conditions by insisting that Jerusalem would be excluded from negotiations and that settlement expansion would continue, he said.
The PLO council began a two-day meeting which was expected to extend the term of Abbas and endorse his opposition to re-starting negotiations with Israel unless it first halts all settlement building in the occupied West Bank.
Abbas said the 10-month freeze ordered by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month was not sufficient, since it was only a partial halt to construction and Israel was now pouring more money into the settler communities.
Abbas, 74, has built his career around trying to negotiate a permanent peace with Israel. His presidency of the Palestinian Authority expires on Jan. 25. An election to choose his successor was cancelled after the Islamist Hamas movement said it would prohibit voting in the Gaza Strip, which it controls.
The Fatah movement, which dominates the PLO and is led by Abbas, has called on him to stay in office until elections can be held in Gaza as well as the West Bank. Abbas has made it clear he will not seek a second term.
Hamas, which is not part of the PLO, has said any extension of Abbas’s term would be illegitimate. The Islamist movement says his term expired nearly a year ago. Unlike Abbas and the PLO, who are ready to negotiate a treaty with Israel, Hamas remains committed to armed struggle against the Jewish state.
The PLO Central Council is expected to reject “American-Israeli pressure” on Abbas, according to an early draft statement obtained by Reuters.
Abbas is also leader of the PLO, which is recognised internationally as the representative body of the Palestinians. He succeeded Yasser Arafat after his death in 2004.
Frustrated by the stalled peace process, he has said repeatedly that he will not seek a second term as president of the Palestinian Authority. However, he has no obvious successor.