RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will reject any U.S. invitation to resume peace talks with Israel unless Washington persuades Israel to freeze settlement activity, an aide said on Monday.
Nabil Shaath said only a full settlement freeze without exceptions or “loopholes” and an Israeli commitment to establishing a Palestinian state would be enough to bring Abbas back to the negotiating table.
Shaath told foreign correspondents in Ramallah the reaffirmed position of the central committee of Abbas’s Fatah party was that a halt to Jewish settlement must be implemented throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem and not be limited by “artificial” timeframes.
He said the only time limit Palestinians would accept was that the freeze could be temporary but must last until a final peace settlement was agreed on.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been negotiating with U.S. President Barack Obama’s envoy, George Mitchell, on how far Israel might be able to secure exemptions from the settlement freeze that Obama has demanded.
Political sources have said such exemptions might include building in East Jerusalem, completing projects already under way, or the “natural growth” of existing settlements.
Shaath, who was re-elected in August to Fatah’s central committee and is a former Palestinian prime minister and foreign minister, dismissed suggestions that Abbas would have little choice but to accept a return to negotiations if Obama agreed on a compromise over settlements.
Asked what the Palestinian leadership would say if Obama asked them to negotiate on the basis of a limited settlement freeze, Shaath said: “I would say, Mr. Obama, we love you … but I am sorry this is not enough to bring us to the peace process.”