Abbas Sets Conditions for Direct Talks With Israel

Palestinian president demands complete halt to settlement building in exchange for return to face-to-face peace negotiations.

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he was ready for direct negotiations with Israel, provided key condition are met, including a total halt to settlement building in the West Bank, according to statements released Thursday.

After months of US-brokered indirect meetings, or proximity talks, Abbas said he would negotiate directly with the Israel if the goal was to establish an independent Palestinian state on the territory occupied in the 1967 war.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaking during a news conference in Sofia, Bulgaria on July 13, 2010Credit: Reuters

Abbas' statements came after a meeting with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in Jeddah late Wednesday.

On the schism between his party in the West Bank and the Islamist Hamas movement which administers the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian leader said no progress has been made in nearly a year to bridge the gap and bring the two territories under one administration.

However, the divide should not hamper peace talks with Israel, Abbas said.

The peace process "has no relation to internal divisions, as it is not linked to disputes between groups but to Palestinian independence," Abbas said.

"If we reach an agreement with the Israelis, I will present it to the public in a referendum," he pledged.

Saudi Arabia negotiated the last detente between Fatah and Hamas in Mecca in 2007, which broke down later that year, leaving the parties more divided than before.

Abbas and King Abdullah discussed developments in the proximity talks between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as international efforts to revive the peace process, according to statements released after the meeting.

Abbas was in Cairo last week for talks with the Arab League's peace initiative committee, which supports the US-brokered sessions but plans to take the peace process back to the Security Council if the parties do not move to direct talks by September.

The League has laid out its conditions for supporting the direct talks, specifically, that there are clear terms of reference, a definitive time frame to end the conflict and a monitoring unit to ensure conditions are being met.

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