Agence France Presse (AFP)
January 12, 2010 - 1:00am

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Tuesday said for the first time that he might restart peace negotiations with Israel if it froze settlement expansion for a "fixed period."

"We will not accept the relaunching of negotiations without a complete halt to settlements, including in Jerusalem, for a fixed period," Abbas told reporters in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

It was the first time Abbas appeared to accept some kind of temporary settlement freeze, after months in which he insisted on a total halt to settlement growth pending a final agreement on borders.

The United States has for months been pressing Israel and the Palestinians to relaunch peace negotiations suspended during the Gaza war in December 2008 and January 2009.

After months of US pressure, Israel's hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a 10-month moratorium on new construction in the occupied West Bank but excluded public buildings and projects already under way.

The moratorium also excluded annexed Arab east Jerusalem, which Israel considers part of its "eternal, indivisible" capital but which the Palestinians have demanded as the capital of their promised state.

The Palestinians rejected the moratorium when Netanyahu announced it in November as being insufficient for the relaunch of talks.

The presence of a half million Israelis in more than 100 settlements scattered across the occupied West Bank including east Jerusalem has been one of the thorniest issues in previous rounds of peace talks.


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