RAMALLAH, West Bank, (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has made peace talks with Israel’s new government conditional on it committing to previous agreements and freezing Jewish settlement growth, aides said on Friday.
Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Abbas conveyed that message directly to the so-called Quartet of Middle East mediators — the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.
“It was conveyed to the Quartet that Israel must accept the two-state solution and agreements signed, including Annapolis, and freeze settlement activities, in order to have political negotiations. You cannot have political negotiations without that,” Erekat said.
If Israel made such a commitment, Erekat added, Abbas would agree to resume the negotiations immediately.
Western diplomats said that seemed unlikely, at least for the time being.
Israel’s new foreign minister, ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman, has declared invalid statehood talks launched at a U.S.-sponsored conference in Annapolis, Maryland in November 2007. He says peace efforts with the Palestinians have reached a “dead end” and that Israel should focus on other matters.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been more vague, saying his priority was to focus on economic and security issues instead of negotiating statehood borders, and the fate of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. That could put Netanyahu on a collision course with the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, who called this week for a Palestinian state alongside Israel as outlined in Annapolis, and said both sides needed to make compromises.
Netanyahu and Lieberman also support settlement growth despite U.S. calls for a freeze.
The Quartet’s special envoy, Tony Blair, has urged Netanyahu to resume statehood talks in parallel with a push to boost the West Bank economy and to let Palestinians control more of their territory. Abbas’s Western-backed government is based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Blair also urged Netanyahu to ease Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, which Hamas Islamists seized in June 2007 after routing forces loyal to Abbas’s secular Fatah faction.