RAMALLA, (AFP) – The Palestinian leadership on Saturday said there would be no further peace talks with Israel as long as it continued settlement construction in the occupied territories.
The decision by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) strengthened president Mahmud Abbas, who has threatened to walk out of US-backed talks relaunched a month ago over the recent resumption of building in the West Bank.
However, 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.
“The resumption of negotiations requires tangible steps from Israel and the international community beginning with a halt of settlement activity,” the PLO said in a statement.
“We have alternatives (to the negotiations) which we will announce soon,” it said after holding a special meeting attended by Abbas and members of his Fatah movement’s Central Committee. It did not provide further details.
“The Palestinian leadership holds the Israeli government responsible for foiling the international efforts and the peace process in the region because it is determined to combine negotiations with settlements,” it added.
The PLO, a Fatah-dominated umbrella group headed by Abbas that includes most Palestinian factions but not the militant Hamas, is the Palestinians’ sole international representative.
Fatah, meanwhile, appeared to have adopted an even harder line on the negotiations, with one member of the Central Committee suggesting the international community reconsider Israel’s existence.
“The ball is now in the court of the international community to stop the unilateral aggression on Palestinian lands on which a Palestinian state must be established,” Jibril Rajub told reporters.
“If the world cannot do that, then it should re-examine the legitimacy of the continued existence of the state of Israel, which was established with an international birth certificate.”
The Arab League Follow-up Committee on the peace talks will meet to form its own position on Friday in the Libyan city of Sirte, officials in Cairo said, after the meeting was twice postponed.
Abbas — who previously secured the endorsement of the group of Arab foreign ministers for launching indirect peace talks and then again for upgrading to direct talks — plans to announce his decision after the meeting.
“We want the Arab Follow-up Committee to support the Palestinian position on the negotiations,” Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior PLO official and member of the negotiating team, told AFP after Saturday’s meeting.
“But we have taken a decision on the negotiations and we will bear the consequences.”
A Palestinian official, meanwhile, said on condition of anonymity that Abbas would ask for Arab and international assistance in bringing the settlements issue before the UN Security Council.
The Palestinian leader had frequently threatened to walk out of the direct negotiations launched exactly one month ago if Israel allowed a 10-month moratorium on new West Bank settler homes to expire on September 26.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allowed the restrictions to end despite US pressure, but has said he will restrain settlement construction and repeatedly urged the Palestinians to continue the talks.
US envoy George Mitchell held meetings with both sides last week before heading for meetings with Arab leaders in a bid to keep the peace talks alive. He arrived in Cairo on Saturday after holding talks in Qatar.
The Palestinians have long viewed the presence of some 500,000 Israelis in more than 120 settlements scattered across the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem as a major obstacle to the establishment of a viable state.
The international community considers all settlements illegal.
Meanwhile, a mortar round was fired on southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, without causing any casualties, the Israeli army said.
The number of attacks declined sharply following Israel’s massive 22-day Gaza offensive in December 2008 and January 2009, and Hamas has taken steps to rein in the attacks, believed to be the work of rival factions.
However, since the start of 2010, militants have fired more than 120 rockets or mortar rounds into southern Israel, the military says.