Saud Abu Ramadan, Gwen Ackerman
January 26, 2010 - 1:00am

The U.S. is putting pressure on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to resume peace talks with Israel while avoiding confrontation with the Jewish state, a senior Palestinian official said.

“Washington, along with the international community, is pressuring the Palestinians without obliging Israel to stop settlement construction,” Nabil Shaath, a member of the decision-making Central Committee of Abbas’s Fatah party, said today in an e-mailed statement.

Palestinians broke off the last round of Middle East peace talks at the end of 2008 to protest Israel’s military action in the Gaza Strip. Abbas says he won’t resume negotiations unless Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu freezes all settlement construction in the West Bank.

Failure to solve the conflict with the Palestinians is a bigger threat for Israel than the Iranian nuclear threat, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said today at a Tel Aviv conference. “The lack of an answer to the problem of drawing borders in the historic Land of Israel -- and not an Iranian bomb -- is the most serious threat to Israel’s future,” Barak said, in remarks broadcast on Israel Army Radio.

U.S. envoy George Mitchell met separately with Abbas and Netanyahu last week in his latest attempt to get the two back to the negotiating table. Netanyahu has declared a partial 10-month freeze on West Bank settlement-building and has been urging Abbas to return to peace talks. The U.S. has welcomed the move, easing its previous demands for a complete halt to construction.

‘Leadership is Firm’

Shaath, a former foreign minister for the Palestinian Authority, said that Abbas would not give in to the pressure.

“The Palestinian leadership is firm in rejecting the U.S. and Israeli demands,” Shaath said, adding that Abbas is currently traveling abroad to enlist support for his position. “The U.S. is not interested in a collision with Israel and that’s why it is directing its pressure toward the Palestinians.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Jan. 18 after meeting in Berlin with Netanyahu that she also planned to press Abbas to grasp the offer of negotiations with Israel when she meets with him early next month.

“We need movement” in the peace process, Merkel said at a joint press briefing in Berlin today with Israeli President Shimon Peres.


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