Avi Issacharoff
March 12, 2010 - 1:00am

The Palestinian Authority will not begin indirect talks with Israel unless construction in the settlements, including in East Jerusalem, is completely frozen, PA President Mahmoud Abbas told the Arab League on Thursday.

Abbas' statement was reported by both chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa.

On Wednesday, the league's committee on the Arab peace initiative met in Cairo and urged the league to withdraw its support for indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks until Israel ends construction in East Jerusalem. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who is visiting the region this week, had urged the Palestinians to begin the talks despite their anger over Israel's approval of plans to build 1,600 new apartments in Ramat Shlomo, an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood over the Green Line.

But Abbas and other PA leaders are apparently more concerned by the damage the construction plans - which were approved just as the talks were about to start - have caused them in the eyes of the Palestinian public.

In one sense, PA leaders benefited from the construction plans: They scored a clear victory over Israel in the diplomatic arena. But they are also very aware of the long-term harm this incident could cause them among the Palestinian public: While most Palestinians are deeply skeptical that peace talks with Israel will produce any results, Fatah, the PA's ruling party, has made the peace process its signature policy.

Thus they fear the new construction will further weaken Fatah's status among the Palestinian public, to the benefit of the rival Hamas party, which opposes peace talks.

Even before the Ramat Shlomo imbroglio erupted, the PA was already facing public criticism over its decision, in honor of Biden's visit, to cancel a ceremony at which a square in Ramallah was to have been named for Dalal al-Mughrabi, a terrorist who killed 38 Israelis in the so-called Coastal Road massacre of 1978.


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