US has week to get Middle East talks back on track

US has week to get Middle East talks back on track

US negotiators were today given a week to broker a deal keeping the Middle East peace talks on track.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said he would wait at least until next Monday before deciding whether to pull out the talks following the end of the Israeli ban on West Bank settlement construction.

That gives a breathing space for the US mediators to produce a compromise.

Mr Abbas repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the newly launched negotiations if Israel resumed building in the settlements.

Palestinians oppose all Israeli construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas they claim for a future Palestinian state.

But with the stakes so high, Mr Abbas said he would not make any hasty decision on withdrawing.

He said he would weigh his options with Palestinian leaders before discussing the matter with the 22-member Arab League next Monday.

“We will not have any quick reactions,” he said. “After this chain of meetings, we might publish a position that clears up the position of the Palestinian and Arab people after Israel has refused to freeze settlements.”

Mr Abbas urged the Israeli government to extend the slowdown of settlement construction for three or four months to allow for a discussion of “fundamental issues.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu imposed the restrictions last year to help coax the Palestinians to the negotiating table. But under pressure from pro-settler elements in his governing coalition, he has said he will not extend the order, which expired at midnight.

However he has left the door open to some sort of compromise. He urged the Palestinians to continue negotiations, and his chief negotiator has remained in Washington to work with mediators on reaching a deal.

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