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Abbas Says No Peace Without Moratorium on Settlement Construction

  • Margaret Besheer

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the U.N. General Assembly Saturday that there cannot be peace with Israel unless the Jewish state ceases settlement construction in areas they claim for a future state.

President Abbas said Israel must halt construction in areas in the West Bank and East Jerusalem which Palestinians want to see as the capital of their future state. He said Israel's choice is clear.

"Israel must choose between peace and the continuation of settlements," he said.

He said Palestinian demands for a halt to settlement building is not an "arbitrary pre-condition" but a long-standing Israeli commitment and obligation.

He also called for the lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip, the dismantling of the barrier separating Israel and the West Bank, and an end to checkpoint closures which, he said deprive the Palestinian people of their basic human rights.

Israel is set to lift its ten-month moratorium on most West Bank settlement building on Sunday, and the Palestinians have threatened to walk out of the U.S.-backed peace talks if that happens.

The United States is working intensively to avoid a breakdown in the talks. On Friday evening, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with President Abbas, and U.S. Envoy George Mitchell was to meet the Palestinian leader again Saturday.

The Middle East peace process figured prominently in speeches Saturday as the U.N. General Assembly annual debate continued.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the settlement issue has become a major factor in determining the level of Israel's commitment to making the negotiations a success, and if Israel reneges on the settlement freeze, it should be held accountable for any negative repercussions.

"If Israel fails in its commitment to continue freezing its settlement activities, then it would expose the negotiation process to collapse and it will shoulder the full responsibility before the regional and world public opinion, as well as the American sponsor for wasting this valuable opportunity which was made possible by a major American effort," he said.

Germany's foreign minister (Guido Westerwelle) also called for an extension on the moratorium and urged both sides to refrain from taking any action which might "block the path to peace."

And Australia's new foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, called on the parties to work hard to seize the historic opportunity before them.

In his General Assembly address on Thursday, President Barack Obama called on the international community to rally behind U.S.-led efforts for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within a year.

Israel's foreign minister will address the General Assembly on Tuesday.