PA Official: Arab States to Attempt UN-forced Settlement Freeze

Speaking to Ma'an news, chief Palestinian negotiator blasts Netanyahu's refusal to freeze settlements, says Mideast peace talks are just one way to solve the conflict.

Egypt is leading a joint Arab initiative geared at forcing Israel to cease its settlement construction by appealing the United Nations, a top Palestinian official told the Ma'an news agency on Monday.

Mahmoud Abbas and Saeb Erekat - AP - Feb. 6, 2010

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been stalled since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had refused to extend a 10-month moratorium on new West Bank settlement housing that expired on September 26, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas saying he won’t resume the talks without an extension on the building curbs.

Last week, Abbas hinted that the Palestinians would try to persuade the United States to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, if Israel kept up its refusal to freeze settlements.

“For now, we are focusing on the first option [negotiations],” Abbas said.

Speaking with Ma'an on Monday, the PA's chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the aim of the joint Arab initiative proposed by Egypt would be to force an extended settlement freeze on Israel, alluding to the need to find alternatives in the face of deadlocked negotiations.

"When we talk about alternatives, this doesn’t mean failing [in the] talks; we want them to succeed," Erekat told Maan, adding that "negotiation is a tool that is used to solve problems, not a goal in itself. If Israel made the talks fail, then we will go to the other options."

According to Ma'an report, the chief Palestinian negotiator said that the PA was also considering asking the United Nations Security Council to bilaterally recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.

Speaking of the possibility of sustaining the PA, amid fears the Palestinain government could collapse in the face of a terminal peace talks deadlock, Erekat said that "if Netanyahu chooses to keep the situation as it is, then what is the use of that?"

On Sunday, the London based Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat reported that Egypt had been contacting international and regional authorities in order to examine options regarding an international peace summit.

Egyptian sources told the newspaper that Egypt finds it hard to accept the continued settlement freeze and Israel's refusal to cooperate and take positive steps on the settlement issue.

"The impasse in the peace process must end in order to sustain the Palestinians' international rights," said an Egyptian source.

"An international summit would redefine the fundamentals and the borders of a Palestinian state that would be erected on the territories occupied in June of 1967, with Israeli settlements or without."

The Egyptian source also told Al-Hayat that "there is no escaping the need to find a suitable alternative that would keep the peace process alive, especially in light of the Israeli government's extreme rightist views."

"We will not stand with our hands tied while the Israeli government refuses to cooperate with the Palestinians. We have other options we must examine."