August 31, 2009 - 12:00am

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.

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."

Settler leaders: No outpost evacuation without compromise

Defense Minister Ehud Barak is scheduled to meet Monday afternoon with the leadership of the Yesha Council of Settlements to discuss the construction freeze and the evacuation of unauthorized outposts.

The head of the Yesha Council, Gershon Masika, announced earlier Monday that he would boycott the meeting in protest of the settlement freeze policy.

"The issue of outposts has nothing to do with security," he said.

Divisions within the settler council emerged on Sunday when members convened to prepare for the meeting with Barak.

On one side were members who claimed that the defense minister was playing with them and that it was prohibited to meet with him.

However, it was eventually decided that the meeting with Barak would go ahead as planned, and that the opportunity would be used to send an uncompromising message that there would be no negotiations on the evacuation of outpost without a lifting on the ban on settlement construction in the West Bank.

Barak has not met with the heads of the Yesha Council of Settlements since the evacuation of Hebron's "house of contention" in December 2008.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017