PA to Pressure U.S. to Support Freeze on Settlement Building

Palestinians: Temple Mount is deal-breaker; Abbas asks Welch to help stop land expropriation near J'lem.

Senior Palestinian Authority officials have told Haaretz they will pressure U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to persuade Israel to declare a freeze on construction in the settlements even before the Annapolis peace summit in November.

"This is a stage Israel agreed to at the first stage of the road map," a Palestinian official said. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa told the German news agency over the weekend that the Arab countries would seek a halt to Israeli construction in the settlements in exchange for their participation in the summit. They would also "oppose beginning any final talks without a timetable," Moussa said.

Despite attempts by Israel to avoid discussing final-status issues in the media, senior PA officials also told Haaretz that the idea the Temple Mount would not be in Palestinian hands was "inconceivable."

"No Palestinian leader would agree to this, certainly not Abu Mazen [PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas]," a PA official said. "No Arab country would agree for a final-status arrangement in which the Temple Mount was not in Muslim hands, particularly not Saudi Arabia."

Another Palestinian official told Haaretz that "the Israeli public still doesn't understand how important the issue of Al-Aqsa is," referring to the mosque on the Temple Mount. He added that the issue was a deal-breaker for the Palestinian public.

The official said the Israeli negotiating team was inexperienced, which was hurting the talks. "They weren't at Camp David or Taba and do not know or want to know what was agreed on there. They want to start from zero, which is unacceptable to the Palestinian side."

Abbas met over the weekend with the U.S. Middle East envoy David Welch to ask that the U.S. put pressure on Israel to freeze its expropriation of land near Jerusalem in the E-1 area. Haaretz has learned that the Palestinian Liberation Organization's chief negotiator Saeb Erekat also sent a letter to the Quartet of Mideast mediators, asking them to stop the expropriation as well as construction in the settlements.

Erekat said in the letter it was unfortunate that while Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas were meeting continuously to try to build confidence ahead of the international summit in the U.S., the Israeli government continued to create facts on the ground that would hurt the two-state solution and the summit.

The head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Ahmed Qureia, met Saturday with Welch and told him that the joint document ahead of the summit should clearly refer to the final-status issues of Jerusalem, borders and refugees.

Palestinian sources said another meeting was expected to be held Monday between the Israeli and Palestinian teams.

Amos Harel adds: A Hamas man was killed early Saturday and three others were wounded when the Israel Defense Forces fired a missile at a Hamas cell in Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip, military sources said. They said the men had just fired a rocket into the western Negev. THe rocket caused no damage. Another rocket landed in the same area early Friday with no damage or injuries.

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