Abbas rules out talks without full settlement freeze

Image caption,
Mr Abbas says the building freeze must be complete for the Palestinians to return to the talks

The Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has ruled out returning to peace talks with the Israelis unless they stop building settlements in all occupied territories.

His comments come as the US is trying to push Israel to suspend settlement building, excluding in East Jerusalem.

Mr Abbas said he had not yet received an official request from Washington to return to negotiations.

Talks between Israelis and Palestinians briefly resumed in September.

But they were aborted a few weeks later when Israel refused to extend a moratorium on settlement building.

"If it does not encompass Jerusalem, in other words if there is not a complete freeze on settlement in all the Palestinian territories including Jerusalem, we will not accept it," Mr Abbas told reporters after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

"If Israel wants to return to its settlement activities, then we can't go on. A settlement freeze must include all of the Palestinian territories and above all Jerusalem," he said.

Persuasion and pressure

This is not the first time President Abbas has made such remarks, but the timing is significant: it comes at the start of a week where US President Barack Obama's push for Middle East peace could either die or, if he is lucky, just about limp on, says the BBC's Jon Donnison in Ramallah.

For weeks, the United States has been trying to persuade and pressure Israel to renew its freeze on building Jewish homes on occupied land in the West Bank.

This week, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to ask his cabinet, which contains right-wing pro-settler members, to approve a 90-day freeze on the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem.

President Obama seems to be bending over backwards to get Israelis and Palestinians talking again, but the torturously slow pace at which things are moving reflects that both sides seem to be dragging their heels, our correspondent adds.

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