Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas at the opening of a medical center in August 2010 in Ramallah. Photo by Reuters
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The Palestinians will freeze recently announced direct Middle East peace talks if Israel does not extend its settlement construction moratorium, the pan-Arab newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat reported on Saturday.

Israel and the Palestinians accepted on Friday an invitation by the United States and other powers to restart direct talks on Sept. 2 in a modest step toward forging a peace deal within 12 months to create a Palestinian state and peacefully end one of the world's most intractable conflicts.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will meet with President Barack Obama on Sept. 1, before formally resuming direct negotiations the following day at the State Department in Washington.

However, the al-Sharq al-Awsat report Saturday stated that the Palestinians will opt out of direct negotiations if Israel would not extend its present freeze on West Bank settlement construction beyond its September 26 expiration date.

After a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, in which the Palestinian leadership announced its acceptance of the invitation for face-to-face peace talks with Israel, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, warned that the Palestinians would pull out of the new talks if the Israelis allow a return to settlement building on lands that the Palestinians seek for a future state.

The invitation to the talks "contains the elements needed to provide for a peace agreement," Palestinian leaders said.

"It can be done in less than a year," Erekat said. "The most important thing now is to see to it that the Israeli government refrains from settlement activities, incursions, fait accomplis policies."

Clinton said the talks should include the "final status" issues such as the boundaries of a future Palestinian state, Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the right of return of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem. She urged both sides to refrain from provocative acts.

"As we move forward, it is important that actions by all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it," Clinton said.