|The Palestinians want Israel to extend construction freeze in the occupied territory which expired last Sunday [AFP]
An influential Palestinian body has urged the Palestinian president to quit direct talks with Israel, saying there should be no further peace talks as long as Israel continued settlement construction in the occupied territories.
Reading from a statement on Saturday, Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee, said Israel's failure to extend a 10-month partial freeze in settlement construction in the West Bank has made the negotiations "devoid of any meaning".
The Israeli government bore "full responsibility for the current impasse in the peace process" and "the collapse of negotiations," Rabbo continued.
The PLO statement, which comes just days before an Arab League committee meets on the issue, exerts more pressure on the Palestinian president to disengage from the direct talks - a decision he said he would make after the Arab League consultations.
Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has repeatedly threatened to walk out of the US-sponsored talks if the moratorium is not extended. The direct talks were relaunched a month ago with a declared goal of a two state solution within a year.
Abbas has said he would not make a final decision on the talks until after meeting Arab foreign ministers in Libya on Friday, giving US mediators another few days to try to strike a compromise.
In order to continue the talks, the PLO committee demanded that Israel make similar concessions.
"The resumption of negotiations requires tangible steps from Israel and the international community beginning with a halt of settlement activity," the PLO statement said.
"We have alternatives [to the negotiations] which we will announce soon," it said after holding a special meeting attended by Abbas and members of his Fatah movement's Central Committee. It did not provide further details.
"The Palestinian leadership holds the Israeli government responsible for foiling the international efforts and the peace process in the region because it is determined to combine negotiations with settlements," it said.
The PLO, a Fatah-dominated umbrella group headed by Abbas that includes most Palestinian factions but not Hamas, is the Palestinians' sole internationally recognised representative.
Fatah, meanwhile, appeared to have adopted an even harder line on the negotiations, with one member of the Central Committee suggesting the international community reconsider Israel's existence.
"The ball is now in the court of the international community to stop the unilateral aggression on Palestinian lands on which a Palestinian state must be established," Jibril Rajub, a leading member of the Fatah movement, said.
"If the world cannot do that, then it should re-examine the legitimacy of the continued existence of the state of Israel, which was established with an international birth certificate."
The Arab League follow-up committee on the peace talks will meet to form its own position on Friday in the Libyan city of Sirte, officials in Cairo said, after the meeting was postponed twice.
Abbas - who previously secured the endorsement of a group of Arab foreign ministers for launching indirect peace talks and then again for upgrading to direct talks - plans to announce his position after the meeting.
|Israel has made no moves to extend the moratorium despite international pressure [GALLO/GETTY]
"We want the Arab follow-up committee to support the Palestinian position on the negotiations," Rabbo told the AFP news agency after Saturday's meeting.
"But we have taken a decision on the negotiations and we will bear the consequences."
A Palestinian official, meanwhile, said on condition of anonymity that Abbas would ask for Arab and international assistance in bringing the settlements issue before the UN Security Council.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, allowed the restrictions to end despite international pressure, but has said he will restrain settlement construction and repeatedly urged the Palestinians to continue the talks.
George Mitchell, the US special envoy for the peace process, held meetings with both sides last week before heading for meetings with Arab leaders in a bid to keep the peace talks alive.
He arrived in Cairo on Saturday after holding talks in Qatar.
The Palestinians have long viewed the presence of some 500,000 Israelis in more than 120 settlements scattered across the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem as a major obstacle to the establishment of a viable state.
The international community considers all settlements illegal.