Obama holds Abbas talks

Washington meeting comes as Israel defies strong US calls to halt settlement growth.

Hiliary Clinton
Clinton's remarks on settlements were someof her strongest yet on the issue [AFP]

Al Jazeera’s Nour Odeh, speaking from Ramallah in the West Bank, said Abbas planned to present Obama with a detailed plan not just of a Palestinian vision for peace but also for peace in the wider region, based on the Arab peace initiative and the Mitchell peace proposals of 2001.

He would be asking for specific steps to be taken, including urging Israel to commit to a two-state solution and to end all settlement activity, she said.

Abbas would also be demanding an end to the Israeli blockade on Gaza, she added.

Settlement issue

In depth

undefined Barack Obama’s Palestinian conundrum

Israel has rejected US criticism of settlement construction, with Mark Regev, the Israeli government spokesman, saying on Thursday that “normal life” would be allowed to continue in West Bank settlements, effectively meaning construction would continue to accommodate population growth.

But Regev said that settlement activity would continue as usual and that the fate of settlements “will be determined in final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and in the interim, normal life must be allowed to continue in those communities”.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told Al Jazeera that while the Palestinians appreciated Clinton’s statement, they hoped the US would get Israel to “comply”.

“Settlements are illegal and illegal things don’t have natural growth and should not have natural growth and it’s really shameful to continue throwing [out] this line and at the same to time to speak about a two-state solution,” he said.

Israeli settlements are considered illegal
under international law [EPA]

“Israel has the choice – settlements or peace. They can’t have both.”

The talks between Obama and Abbas are the latest in a series of diplomatic moves by the Obama administration over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

They follow talks in Washington between Obama and Netanyahu last week, and a meeting between Obama and King Abdullah of Jordan in April.

Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds, reporting from Washington, said Thursday’s meeting would prove crucial for Obama as finding a resolution to the conflict is key to Obama’s wider aims in the region, such as removing the impetus for radicalism and restricting the growth of Iran’s power.

In addition, the meeting is a chance for Obama to legitimise Abbas as opposed to members of the Palestinian group Hamas, although he has to take a fine line of not making the Palestinian president appear to be a puppet of Washington, our correspondent said.

Conflicting demands

Abbas has ruled out restarting long-stalled peace talks until Israel halts all settlement activity.

But less than a week after meeting Obama, aides quoted Netanyahu as telling his cabinet that while he did not intend to build new settlements, “it makes no sense to ask us not to answer to the needs of natural growth and to stop all construction”.

“Natural growth” is a term used by Israelis to describe construction inside existing settlements that they say is necessary for the needs of growing settler families.

Netanyahu has also resisted committing to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, focusing his talks with Obama instead on Iran.

The Palestinians say settlements built on land Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, and deemed illegal internationally, would deny them a viable and contiguous state and that expansion activities undermine efforts to negotiate a peace agreement.

Source: News Agencies