Mark Landler
The New York Times
September 16, 2010 - 12:00am

After two days of difficult peace negotiations with Israel over the issue of Jewish settlements, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, sounded a modestly positive note on Thursday, declaring that he saw no alternative but to keep talking.

The Palestinians have threatened to walk out of the talks if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not extend a partial moratorium on the construction of settlements, something he has refused to do.

While Mr. Abbas’s comments did not rule out the possibility of a walkout, he appeared ready to soldier on, having spent hours in talks with Mr. Netanyahu at the State Department, at a Red Sea resort in Egypt, and most recently at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem.

“We all know there is no alternative to peace other than negotiating peace, so we have no alternative but to continue peace efforts,” Mr. Abbas said before meeting Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

There were indications of growing support, by both the United States and Egypt, for an option that would extend the moratorium for three months, during which the two sides would try to resolve their differences over border issues — a step that would help defuse the settlement dispute, because it would be easier to determine the sites for future building.

In an interview with Channel 10, an Israeli television station, Mrs. Clinton said, “Where we sit now it would be useful for some extension, it would be extremely useful, and I don’t think a limited extension would undermine the process going forward if there were a decision agreed to by both parties that, ‘Look, this is it, this is our last effort to try to do this.’ ”

The Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, said in an interview for Israeli television, scheduled for broadcast on Saturday, “What are three or four months for the sake of the continuation of the peace talks?” Extracts from Mr. Mubarak’s remarks were carried by the Egyptian news agency MENA.

Mrs. Clinton encouraged Mr. Abbas, saying the United States would work for the creation of “an independent, sovereign, viable Palestinian state that realizes the aspirations of the Palestinian people.”

Many analysts believe that the Israelis and the Palestinians will figure out a way to finesse the settlements dispute, if only to avoid blame for derailing the talks after less than a month.

A stop in Jordan completed a hectic week of peacemaking in the region for Mrs. Clinton, who said she was still confident that Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas “can make the difficult decisions necessary.”

After two days spent in air-conditioned hotel rooms in Egypt and Israel, prodding Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas on settlements, Mrs. Clinton traveled through the torrid heat of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley on Thursday, getting an on-the-ground view of the thorny issues, like borders and security, which have made Middle East peace such an elusive quest.

En route to lunch with King Abdullah II of Jordan, Mrs. Clinton’s motorcade passed a string of settlements on the rocky hilltops of the West Bank. The Israeli government’s moratorium curtailed construction of these units for the last 10 months, but it expires on Sept. 26.

She crossed into Jordan over the Allenby Bridge, the principal exit point for Palestinians from the West Bank. The bridge, guarded by Israeli troops, symbolizes another sticking point between Israelis and Palestinians — how to police the border of a new Palestinian state.

Israel has demanded some kind of security presence, arguing that the border could become a funnel for weapons, to be used by militants to attack Israel. The Palestinians have resisted this, but analysts say some kind of international force is inevitable.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton witnessed the signing of a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan at another crossing point into Jordan, near the southern Israeli city of Eilat. Mrs. Clinton invoked that agreement after her lunch with the king, calling it a “historic achievement” that inspired today’s peacemakers.

She also announced $275 million in new development aid from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, an American foreign aid agency, to help Jordan upgrade its water supply network and expand a wastewater treatment plant.

Jordan, like Egypt, is viewed as a critical supporter of a peace agreement because of its shared border with Israel and its large Palestinian population. Its foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, called on both sides to move swiftly toward an understanding on borders and Israeli security, which he said would help them get around the disagreement on settlements.

Asked later if he thought the two sides could reach such an understanding before Sept. 26, Mr. Judeh held up two sets of crossed fingers.


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