CAIRO (AFP) – The Palestinians want peace talks with Israel to continue, a US envoy said in Cairo on Sunday, a day after the Palestine Liberation Organisation urged president Mahmud Abbas to quit the negotiations.
“Despite their differences, both the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority have asked us to continue these discussions in an effort to establish the conditions under which they can continue direct negotiations,” George Mitchell told reporters after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
“They both want to continue these negotiations, they do not want to stop the talks,” he added.
The Middle East envoy, who has been touring the region since Tuesday, arrived in Cairo on Saturday as part of a last-ditch drive to save the fledgling direct peace talks.
The US-backed negotiations began on September 2, but have been on the brink of collapse since Israel refused to extend a 10-month moratorium on new settler homes in the West Bank that expired a week ago.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation, an umbrella group that includes most Palestinian factions except the militant Hamas, on Saturday urged Abbas to withdraw from the talks over the resumption of Israeli settlement construction.
“The resumption of negotiations requires tangible steps from Israel and the international community beginning with a halt of settlement activity,” the PLO said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted by urging Abbas “to continue the peace talks without a break with the aim of reaching a historic accord in a year.”
Abbas has said he would not make a final decision on the talks until after meeting Arab foreign ministers in Libya on Friday, giving US mediators another few days to try to strike a compromise.
Seeking to break the deadlock, Mitchell met Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Abbas in Ramallah on Friday, before flying to Qatar and then Egypt. He is due to meet Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman later on Sunday.
“We are pursuing this effort continuing discussions today, in the past several days and in the next several days with the two parties, with other leaders in the region, in Europe and elsewhere, including the members of the (Mideast) Quartet,” Mitchell said in Cairo.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit underlined his government’s support for “the Palestinian position, which requires favourable conditions in order pursue direct negotiations.”
“At this precise moment, the conditions are not conducive,” he said, adding: “We have asked the United States to continue their efforts.”
The Palestinians have long viewed the presence of some 500,000 Israelis in more than 120 settlements scattered across the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem as a major obstacle to the establishment of a viable state.
The international community considers the settlements to be illegal.