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.