Israel must make the choice between peace and settlements, the Palestinian Authority urged on Friday, following a meeting between U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell and PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the Palestinians want to give the negotiations a chance, but that success is mainly up to Israel, whose actions could doom the peace process.

 

"If the price that we will pay for saying yes to Mitchell will be more settlements and more dictations, that's a big question mark about the possibility of continuing," said Erekat.

 

"Now the Israeli government has a choice, either peace or settlements, and it can't have both," he said.

The Palestinians refuse to enter into direct negotiations unless Israel halts all settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of their future state. 

 

Netanyahu has agreed to a temporary slowdown in the West Bank, but refuses to announce a construction freeze in East Jerusalem.

Mahmoud Abbas has agreed to participate in indirect peace talks with Israel, but has said he still requires the formal backing of the Palestinian Liberation Organization's executive committee, which is expected to sign off on the negotiations when it meets Saturday. 

 

Mitchell arrived earlier this week, and has already held two days of talks with Netanyahu. He was to meet again with Abbas on Saturday and Sunday, said Saeb Erekat.

Earlier on Friday, President Shimon Peres told visiting U.S. envoy George Mitchell that Jerusalem was committed to reaching a Middle East settlement that would see the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state beside Israel, but that security must be a central focus of these talks.

During their meeting, Peres told Mitchell that Israel placed security at the top of the agenda for the upcoming talks.