News / Middle East

Israel's Settlement Move Spurs Condemnation, Diplomacy

French President Nicolas Sarkozy (r) after a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Elysee Palace in Paris, 27 Sept. 2010
French President Nicolas Sarkozy (r) after a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Elysee Palace in Paris, 27 Sept. 2010

Israel's decision to end its freeze on new settlement construction in the West Bank has sparked international condemnation as well as a wave of diplomatic efforts to keep the Middle East peace talks alive.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Monday the United States is disappointed Israel did not extend the partial 10-month construction ban.  He told reporters U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell will return to the region this week for urgent talks on what he called the "dilemma" posed by the moratorium's expiration.

In Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, inviting him and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to continue negotiations there next month.  Mr. Sarkozy called for an end to Jewish settlement building, as did U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the EU and the British government.

Mr. Abbas said Monday, during a news conference with the French president, there will be no quick decision on whether to continue or pull out of peace talks with Israel.

He said he will consult with the Palestinian leadership and then, on October 4, with the Arab League to discuss how to proceed now that the moratorium has expired.  The Palestinians have threatened to walk out of the negotiations if construction resumes.  Mr. Abbas also urged Mr. Netanyahu to re-impose the freeze on construction, which expired late Sunday, for three or four more months.

The Israeli prime minister has urged Mr. Abbas to continue peace talks and pledged that Israel is "ready to pursue continuous contacts" in order to reach a "historic" agreement within a year,

In the West Bank Monday, Israeli settlers and their supporters initiated a few small, mostly symbolic, projects in the settlements of Ariel and Kiryat Arba, among others, following the lifting of the partial building moratorium.

Mr. Netanyahu had urged West Bank settlers to "show restraint" as the deadline approached.

In New York Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met her Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Muallem, to discuss resuming long-stalled Israeli-Syrian peace talks.  Clinton's spokesman P.J. Crowley said the Syrian foreign minister was "very interested" in developing this element of the peace process.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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