Abbas in Cairo to Discuss U.S. Settlement Freeze Offer to Israel

Possible U.S.-Israeli deal on a 3-month settlement freeze intended to bring Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Cairo Saturday for a two-day visit to discuss the Middle East peace process.

The visit comes in the wake of a recent proposal by the United States for a 90-day freeze of settlement building in order to persuade the Palestinians to come back to the negotiating table of U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace talks.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waves at the Palestinian Presidential compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010. Credit: AP

Abbas, arriving from Jordan, is scheduled to meet with President Hosni Mubarak on Sunday.

A source at the Arab League said that a meeting between Abbas and Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa late Saturday will focus on the U.S. proposal.

They will also discuss the outcome of a meeting between Abbas and David Hill, an aide to U.S. Middle East Special Envoy George Mitchell, in Ramallah last week.

Talks between Israeli and U.S. officials aimed at reviving Middle East peace talks have hit snags over the incentives promised by Washington to persuade Israel to resume a freeze of settlement building.

The United States is prepared to offer Israel written security guarantees if it would help to restart the stalled talks, the U.S. State Department said on Friday.

"We continue our discussions with the Israelis. If there is a need to put certain understandings in writing, we will be prepared to do that," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told a news briefing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said "intensive" discussions continued to get the necessary "understandings."

But an Israeli official said on Friday the United States had not yet provided the guarantees that Israel wanted, with Washington reluctant to commit to paper all the promises Netanyahu says he was offered verbally last week.

The latest snag concerned a pledge that Israel says U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made to provide the country free of charge 20 F-35 stealth warplanes worth $3 billion.

Politicians said Washington was backtracking and now wanted some sort of payment for the coveted fighter aircraft.

In Amman, Abbas told the Saudi daily Asharq Al Awsat that he rejects the linking of a U.S. fighter jets deal with Israel worth 3 billion dollars, in addition to 20 billion dollars of U.S. aid, to the 3-month freeze.

Israeli-Palestinian direct peace talks resumed in early September but fell into limbo within weeks, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu allowed a 10-month partial settlement construction freeze to expire.

Abbas has signaled there would be no further negotiations unless Israel halted the construction of settlements on land that Palestinians argue should be part of a future Palestinian state.

Netanyahu said that the plan was not yet final and "is still being formulated by Israeli and American teams."



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