Mohammed Daraghmeh
The Statesman
September 30, 2010 - 12:00am

RAMALLAH, West Bank — A U.S. emissary racing against the clock to salvage Mideast peace negotiations scheduled another quick round of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders after talks Thursday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ended inconclusively.

Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are deadlocked over Israeli settlement construction. Earlier this week, Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month-old moratorium on housing starts in West Bank settlements. Abbas has warned he'll quit U.S.-sponsored peace talks unless the moratorium is extended.

Abbas' final decision is expected Wednesday, when Arab League foreign ministers meet in Cairo. Underscoring the sense of urgency, Europe's top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, rushed to the region for talks with Abbas and Netanyahu on Thursday and Friday.

White House emissary George Mitchell met with Abbas for two hours at his West Bank headquarters on Thursday. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Mitchell would meet with Israeli leaders before returning to Abbas' compound on Friday.

Officials in Netanyahu's office had no immediate comment.

Before Thursday's meeting, Abbas adviser Nabil Shaath said no progress has been made toward a compromise.

"Apparently the Israelis are determined to swallow and steal the land and consider that much more important than peace," Shaath told The Associated Press. "Unless the settlement activities stop completely, there is no use in continuing these negotiations."

Mitchell has been shuttling between Israelis and Palestinians since Tuesday to try to forge a compromise.

Netanyahu says renewing the settlement curb could fracture his pro-settlement coalition. The Palestinians argue that there is no point negotiating as long as settlements gobble up land they want for a future state. Various compromises had been considered, including limiting new construction to major settlement blocs, but Shaath said only a full settlement freeze will suffice.

The Arab League meeting was initially scheduled for Monday, but was put off until Wednesday. An Arab diplomat, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, suggested the meeting was delayed because some ministers asked for further discussions to forge a unified Arab position.


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