West Bank construction threatens peace talks

West Bank construction threatens peace talks

Israel’s 10-month slowdown in West Bank settlement construction is set to end at midnight, threatening to upend the fragile new round of Mideast peace talks.

Attempts to find a compromise between the sides have failed so far. The Palestinians have said they will leave the month-old talks if construction resumes in full on land they want for an independent state.

Israeli settlers and their supporters have pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to end the restrictions on new construction. Some are planning to hold a rally tonight to count down to the official end of the slowdown at midnight.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the United Nations General Assembly in New York that Israel “must choose between peace and the continuation of settlements”.

“Israel must choose between peace and the continuation of settlements,” Mr Abbas said.

Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians stalled only three weeks after starting in Washington in early September over the impending end of the 10-month freeze on new Israeli settlement construction on land claimed by the Palestinians.

Mr Abbas reaffirmed the Palestinian commitment to try to reach a peace deal.

“We have decided to enter into final status negotiations. We will continue to exert every effort to reach an agreement for Palestinian-Israeli peace within one year in accordance with resolutions of international legitimacy ... and the vision of the two-state solution,” Mr Abbas told ministers and diplomats.

But with today’s deadline looming for Israel to resume the contested building, the Palestinians are waiting for US efforts to break the impasse.

President Barack Obama has increasingly placed efforts to resolve the conflict at the centre of his foreign policy, but both Israeli and Palestinian officials said a deal was far from certain.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said US special Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell met with Mr Abbas for about half an hour yesterday.

“We remain engaged with both sides,” he said.

Earlier, Mr Crowley said: “We are doing everything we can to keep the parties in direct talks.”

In his UN speech, Mr Abbas said: “Our demands for the cessation of settlement activities, the lifting of the siege (of Gaza) and an end to all other illegal Israel policies and practices do not constitute arbitrary preconditions in the peace process.”

These are past obligations that Israel is required to implement, he said, and Israel’s implementation “will lead to the creation of the necessary environment for the success of the negotiations”.

He said the Palestinians and the wider Middle East are continuously pushed into “the corner of violence and conflict” as a result of Israel’s “mentality of expansion and domination”.

The Palestinian president demanded an end to Israel’s repeated flouting of UN resolutions, its destruction of the historical identity of Jerusalem, and its blockade of the Gaza Strip which he said created massive suffering for the people living there and prevented reconstruction.

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