Abbas insists on settlement freeze before more talks
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Abbas insists on settlement freeze before more talks

PA president conditions prolonging talks with Israel beyond April on construction moratorium, prisoner release

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting at his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Saturday, January 11, 2014 (photo credit: Flash90/Issam Rimawi)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting at his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Saturday, January 11, 2014 (photo credit: Flash90/Issam Rimawi)

The Palestinians will agree to extend the time frame for negotiations with Israel only if Israel freezes construction in the settlements and frees additional Palestinian prisoners, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly said on Monday.

Abbas told Meretz party leader MK Zahava Gal-on during a meeting in Ramallah that if negotiations failed he would “put the keys on the table and turn to international institutions,” Hebrew media reported reported, hours after Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics published new data indicating that construction in the West Bank more than doubled during 2013.

The current round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is set to expire in April.

Last month, Abbas’s office released a list of Palestinian “red lines” without which negotiations could not succeed. The Palestinian conditions included a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank within four years, recognition of East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, and a “just and agreed upon” solution to the refugee issue.

“The only way we will agree to extend talks is if Netanyahu declares a freeze in settlement construction and releases additional prisoners beyond the next installment [of Palestinian prisoners sentenced before the Oslo Accords in 1993],” Abbas said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yielded to international pressure during his first term in office, announcing a nine-month settlement freeze between November 2009 and September 2010 in a bid to jump-start negotiations. The Palestinians refused to resume talks with Israel when the moratorium ended, however.

In his meeting with Gal-on on Monday, Abbas also repeated positions voiced in a speech before Israeli students and activists last month, whereby he does not intend to inundate Israel with Palestinian refugees and does not strive to physically divide Jerusalem.

Abbas is scheduled to meet with US President Barack Obama in Washington March 17, ahead of an American framework agreement to be produced later this month.

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