Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas said Monday that he would not continue "a single day" of direct peace negotiations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if Israel refused to extend its construction freeze in West Bank settlements after it expires next week, AFP reported.
Abbas told AFP that "the negotiations will continue as long as the settlement remains frozen," but stipulated "I am not prepared to negotiate an agreement for a single day more."
The Palestinian leader's remarks came a day after Netanyahu reiterated that he would not yield to growing international calls on Israel to extend a freeze on settlement building in the West Bank – and prevent peace talks from collapsing.
Israel would not risk exposing its citizens to the type of attacks launched from the Gaza Strip since Israel's withdrawal in 2005, Netanyahu told cabinet colleagues at their weekly meeting in Jerusalem.
"I stand firmly behind Israel's security needs, to prevent a repetition of the rocket fire on Israel's citizens from Gaza," he said.
The 10-month freeze, which covers the West Bank excluding East Jerusalem, is due to expire on September 26 and has proved the major sticking point in new peace talks that began in Washington at the start of the month.
Abbas has repeatedly threatened to abandon negotiations if building resumes. Last week, Abbas and Netanyahu - who is under heavy pressure from right-wing coalition partners to abandon the freeze - met in Jerusalem to try and break the deadlock.
But over the weekend Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman completely ruled out a new ban on construction.
"The settlement freeze is just a Palestinian excuse to undermine peace talks, and anyone who seeks excuses will find another excuse even if the freeze is extended," Lieberman said.
Despite the impending end to the freeze, Israel still hopes to avert a crisis, however, and President Shimon Peres is expected to meet Abbas in New York this week in an effort to keep the Palestinians at the negotiating table.
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