With the settlement construction freeze set to expire in one week, diplomatic activity will shift its focus to New York where the annual United Nations General Assembly will convene this week. President Shimon Peres will travel to Manhattan, where a senior source in Jerusalem says he is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Peres is also reportedly scheduled to meet with Turkish President Abdullah Gul.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak has also traveled to the United States, where he will meet in Washington with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and National Security Adviser General James Jones. He is also set to meet in New York with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The international community is applying a great deal of pressure on both Israel and the Palestinians in an effort to ensure that the recently initiated direct negotiations will not collapse when the moratorium on settlement construction expires on September 26.
Peres is expected to press Abbas to continue the negotiations. Prior to the start of the Yom Kippur holiday on Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and urged him to extend the freeze for several more months to give the talks a chance.
Efforts are also being made to arrange a meeting between Abbas and U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday.
According to the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat, Muhammad Dahlan, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, said the negotiations with Israel have not even started and there has been no agreement on the agenda.
According to Dahlan, Abbas told Netanyahu during their recent meeting in Jerusalem that there will be no negotiations if construction in the settlements resumes. The Palestinian Authority president's comments reportedly came in response to a statement by Netanyahu that he intends to renew building.
Dahlan said the Palestinians want an immediate agreement on borders as this will critically effect other issues on the table.
Israeli and Palestinian officials will continue talks this week on arranging another meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu prior to the end of the freeze.
Yitzhak Molcho, who heads the Israeli negotiating team, is expected to meet this week with his counterpart, Saeb Erekat. The meeting is likely to take place in New York.
The Prime Minister's Bureau said yesterday, however, that no such meeting had been scheduled and that a final decision will be made today.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman spoke with his British counterpart William Hague and stressed that Israel does not plan to extend the settlement freeze.
"The Palestinians wasted nine months and now on the tenth month they are not arriving at the talks with the good will to reach an agreement, but only because they were forced to do so," Lieberman said.
He added that the Palestinians are using the settlement freeze to undermine the talks. "Those who look for excuses will always find other excuses, even if the freeze is extended," Lieberman said.
Peres is also to meet his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, at the United Nations General Assembly. The meeting will be the first between high level officials of the two countries since the violent incident in late May between activists on a Turkish sponsored flotilla and the Israeli navy.
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