Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated a previous demand that Israel halt all settlement building before direct peace talks can resume, during a meeting Thursday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
It was a day of intense diplomatic activity, as Palestinian negotiators met with top Egyptian and Arab League officials. Palestinian President Abbas stressed that he had come for the support and consul of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, as the Palestinians and the Arabs contemplate what to do next following the most recent snag in the on-again, off-again peace process.
Abbas told journalists, after meeting President Mubarak, that he will accept no direct peace talks with Israel, so long as the Jewish state continues to build settlements on Palestinian land.
He said Palestinian position, as well as that of President Mubarak, is that there can be no negotiations so long as [Israeli] settlements continue. He stressed that he has conveyed this position to the U.S. and that the Palestinian side is demanding that clear rules be put in place.
The U.S. informed Palestinian leaders, several days ago, that it had been unable to persuade Israel to agree to prolong a freeze in settlement activity on the West Bank or in [East] Jerusalem.
The Palestinian leader indicated that he was sending top negotiator Saeb Erekat to Washington to find out what the U.S. intends to do with the peace process, now that Israel has refused to halt settlement activity.
He said he isn't quite sure what Israel and the U.S. have determined to do next, but that he will find out the answer to that question in the next few days. He emphasized that [top negotiator] Saeb Erekat is now on his way to hold talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as with [U.S. envoy] George Mitchell.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is also due to visit Washington to attend a conference but has downplayed speculation he might be involved in talks.
Abbas also left the final decision on talks, either direct or indirect, with Arab and Palestinian leaders. The Arab League "follow-up committee" is due to meet in Cairo to discuss the current diplomatic impasse in the next few days.
Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa has concurred with the Palestinian position on settlement activity.
Moussa said the Arabs will not accept direct negotiations so long as Israel continues to build settlements, because that would be tantamount to unconditionally accepting Israeli terms. He added that the Arabs plan to listen to what U.S. envoy George Mitchell has to say in his upcoming visit to the region, as well as what the U.S. has to say to the Palestinians in Washington.
The Arab League chief did not, however, use strong language or threaten drastic action, as he has done at recent meetings of the Arab League follow-up committee. Moderate Arab states, including Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are known to prefer a diplomatic approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict, despite pressure from Syria and other hardline states to be more pro-active.
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