U.S., EU prod resumption of Mideast talks

Oct. 2, 2010 at 7:59 PM
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JERUSALEM, Oct. 2 (UPI) -- Palestinian and Israeli leaders exchanged demands Saturday with no sign of a way forward with peace talks in sight, officials said.

Palestinian Authority leaders, following their meeting, called for the "unconditional and unrestricted" end to Israeli construction in the West Bank, The Jerusalem Post reported. They said Israel's "insistence on combining settlement expansion with the negotiations is a clear indication that it is not serious in dealing with the peace efforts."

"This also shows that Israel is seeking to use the negotiations as a cover for pursuing the same settlement policy and changing the reality on the ground and determining its fate through occupation and aggression," the PA leadership said in its statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded calling on PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership not to cast aside direct talks, the Post said.

"The way to reach a historic peace agreement between our two peoples is to sit around the negotiating table continuously and with seriousness, and not to leave it, because that is the place to solve our differences," Netanyahu said.

"I hope that also now they won't turn their backs on peace, and will continue in the talks to reach a framework agreement within a year."

The two sides were being encouraged by U.S. and EU officials to resume stalled talks over the disputed West Bank.

U.S. envoy George Mitchell and the EU foreign policy chief, Britain's Catharine Ashton, were shuttling back and forth between Jerusalem and Ramallah in the West Bank in a bid to resume talks, the BBC reported.

The talks ended Sunday when a 10-month Israeli moratorium on building settlements in the disputed territory ran out.

Netanyahu reportedly has thus far rejected the U.S. and European diplomatic efforts to extend the moratorium by two months despite being offered incentives to do so.

Netanyahu told his advisers Friday Israel had consented to the initial moratorium on building housing for Israelis, but the ball was now in the Palestinians' court, Ynetnews reported.

"We did it in order to give Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the option to enter the talks without preconditions," Netanyahu said. "Now I expect the Palestinians to relax their conditions and stay in the talks."

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh said the PA was standing firm on its demand that Israel extend the building moratorium if talks are to move forward.

"The Americans asked to continue contacts with the Palestinians and we have no problem with that," Abu Rudaineh said. "But if Israel is serious it must stop the settlements and take measures to convince the Palestinians and Arabs that it's serious about a serious and just peace process."

Members of the Arab League are to meet in Libya Friday to discuss whether the PA should continue direct talks even though the moratorium was not extended.

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