Times Online

Hopes rise as Abbas drops hint over continuing peace negotiations

Mahmoud Abbas hinted today that he might continue peace negotiations even if Israel does not extend a freeze on settlement construction.

The gesture by the President of the Palestinian Authority offered a possible end to an impasse that threatens to derail the peace process – but in Jerusalem rioting broke out after a Palestinian man was shot dead by an Israeli security guard.

Israeli police briefly crossed into the Temple Mount area in the Old City – sacred to Jews and Muslims – to disperse a group of stone-throwers. Several people were wounded as the violence flared throughout the day.

Micky Rosenfeld, the Israeli police spokesman, said the fighting began when Arab residents of the Silwan neighbourhood threw stones at the security guard’s car.

In New York, Mr Abbas appeared to backtrack on previous threats to leave the talks if any Israeli building continued in the West Bank.

“I cannot say I will leave the negotiations, but it’s very difficult for me to resume talks if Prime Minister Netanyahu declares that he will continue his activity in the West Bank and Jerusalem,” Mr Abbas said, according to a transcript of a closed talk he gave yesterday to a group of Jewish leaders.

A ten-month moratorium on building in the Jewish settlements is due to end on Sunday.

Diplomatic nerves have been frayed as the talks, initiated by President Obama with great fanfare this month, have so far been unsuccessful in yielding a compromise formula on the issue.

Yesterday the Quartet diplomatic group, made up of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia added to the international pressure on Israel to extend the freeze.

Mr Abbas, in New York for the General Assembly of the United Nations, called on Israel to extend the freeze on building new housing units and public buildings for the next few months in order to give the sides a chance to sit down and decide on what the final borders would be between Israel and a future Palestinian state.

“At that time, Israelis will be free to build in their territory and the Palestinians the same,” he said. The idea has been floated before but rebuffed by the Israelis.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, has offered what he describes as a middle ground – one in which construction would be significantly curbed although not entirely halted.

There have also been suggestions from his office that the only building permits that would be granted would be limited to the three larger settlement blocs, areas that are widely expected to be included inside Israel in the event of a final peace deal.

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