Mitchell makes 11th-hour bid to keep talks alive, stop settlement building
Palestinian leaders expected to meet Saturday and officially end negotiations with Israel if renewed construction in West Bank settlements is not stopped.
Despite Palestinian threats to stop the direct talks with Israel, intensive contacts to renew the construction moratorium in the West Bank settlements continue behind the scenes.
The Palestinian leadership is expected to meet tomorrow and decide officially to end negotiations with Israel if the renewed construction in West Bank settlements is not stopped.
The U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met yesterday. They decided to meet again today.
News agencies reported that the Arab League, which was to convene next Monday to discuss their stand on whether to continue the direct talks, postponed the meeting to Wednesday, giving the contacts another 48 hours.
PLO executive committee members, the Fatah central committee and leaders of several Fatah political factions are expected to meet tomorrow and decide on an official halt to the talks. However, the Palestinian leadership is expected to announce that the final decision of whether to leave the talks rests with the Arab League, which is planning to discuss the issue next week.
The head of the Palestinian negotiation team, Saeb Erekat, said on Wednesday that "there are no half-way solutions on the settlements issue."
In a statement released to the press after meeting with U.S. Consul General Daniel Rubinstein, Erekat called on the American government and the European Union to force Israel to stop all construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in order to give peace a chance.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Wednesday the Palestinians would not be able to remain in the peace talks after Israel's decision not to extend the moratorium. He made the comment to the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya news network.
European Union Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton is also expected to arrive for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Thursday. The purpose of her visit will be to support American efforts to save the fledgling talks from collapse.
J Street ignores furor
The pro-Israel lobbying group J Street tried to convey an air of business as usual this week despite the furor caused by the Washington Times' exposure last Friday about the sizable donations the group received from multi-billionaire George Soros.
The Washington Times reported in another item that former MK Colette Avital cut her ties with J Street after discovering they had facilitated meetings for Richard Goldstone on Capitol Hill.
Avital issued a statement to J Street's website strongly denying the "error-filled Washington Times report."
"I am shocked and appalled to read the account in the Washington Times...I am not sure what has happened to the standards of journalism in the United States since the years when I proudly served the Government of Israel as consul general in New York, but the article in Friday's paper represents little more than the fabrication of the minds of writers with a political agenda," Avital wrote.
She said she had told Washington Times reporters clearly that she did not resign from J Street and was about to represent the organization in the U.S. in the coming weeks.
She also denied the newspaper's allegations about J Street's acts regarding Goldstone's meetings in Washington.
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