Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the upcoming resumption of direct peace talks with Israel in a televised speech on Sunday, saying that "Israel will be held accountable for the failure of the talks if settlement construction should continue."
"The negotiations need to bring about serious action that will be able to bring liberation from the occupation and independence," Abbas said.
Mere days before leaving for Washington to take part in a gala summit meeting in Washington, after months of American mediation efforts, Abbas said that the Palestinian agreement to participate in talks is based on Quartet opposition to Israeli construction in settlements. Members of the Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators, which includes the U.S., the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, have repeatedly rejected Israeli construction on territory slated for a future Palestinian state.
"In these critical moments in the history of the region," Abbas said in a speech recorded in Jordan earlier Sunday, "we understand Israel's need for security, as well as our own such need. But the need for security is not an excuse to expand settlements and steal land."
"I want to clarify our stance on settlements, and their illegal status," Abbas continued. "I have to say honestly and clearly that we notified all sides, including the American administration, before we agreed to conduct these talks, that Israel alone will bear the blame for the failure of the negotiations if the settlement construction continues in any way on any Palestinian land captured since 1967."
"I hope that we find a partner in Israel that will be able to make decisions and take a responsible stance on ending the occupation," Abbas went on to say. "That way we can achieve true security for both peoples, Israeli and Palestinian."
Under intense American pressure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a 10-month partial freeze in settlement construction to boost prospects for talks, but the negotiations are resuming just three weeks before the freeze expires. Netanyahu has not pledged to renew it, facing stiff opposition from hard-line coalition partners in his government.
The Palestinians never endorsed the freeze, because it did not halt all construction in the West Bank and did not apply to East Jerusalem, the section claimed by the Palestinians for a future capital.
Abbas is facing internal opposition from Palestinian hard-liners, especially Hamas, for agreeing to return to the negotiating table. The Islamic Hamas, which rules Gaza and has a significant presence in the West Bank, rejects any contact with Israel. Other Palestinians criticize Abbas for not securing Israeli concessions in advance of the talks.
Netanyahu also faces opposition from within: hawkish members of his coalition government oppose any concessions to the Palestinians.
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