- Associated Press - Thursday, September 16, 2010

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Offering a positive note after two days of inconclusive Mideast peace negotiations, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday he sees no alternative to continuing the talks in search of a peace deal with Israel.

His comments came as Israel was coming under increasing pressure Thursday to extend its curb on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank beyond the end of this month, and aides to Mr. Abbas suggested there might be movement toward a compromise on that issue.

Mr. Abbas said previously that the talks could not survive if the Israeli building restrictions were lifted as planned.

“We all know there is no alternative to peace through negotiations, so we have no alternative other than to continue these efforts,” Mr. Abbas said Thursday, speaking through an interpreter during a welcoming ceremony for visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The United States has been encouraging Israel to extend its West Bank building limits. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said he urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to extend the restrictions for three more months to give peacemaking a chance.

Mr. Mubarak said he told Mr. Netanyahu the delay could give the two sides time to draft their future borders. After those lines are agreed, Mr. Mubarak reasoned, Israel can build within its future borders and the Palestinians within theirs.

His comments were carried in excerpts from an interview to be broadcast on Israel Radio.

Mr. Netanyahu’s office said Thursday that Israel doesn’t plan to extend the building limits currently in place and due to expire in late September. Mr. Netanyahu has indicated, however, that some restrictions would be applied after that.

Aides to Mr. Abbas said no deal had been reached on the settlement issue, but said they expect that a compromise will be found, suggesting a possible softening of the Palestinians’ ultimatum to walk out on the talks if any construction resumes. The aides said the Palestinians would accept the Egyptian proposal for a three-month extension of the current moratorium to negotiate final borders.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a sensitive diplomatic matter.

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Abbas met at the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters in the West Bank.

Mr. Abbas thanked the Obama administration. “I know that this time is difficult and the circumstances are difficult, but the Americans are exerting active efforts to achieve this peace,” he said.

It was unclear from Mr. Abbas‘ remarks whether he was suggesting that the Palestinians would remain committed to the talks even if Israel does not extend the limits on building.

Mrs. Clinton reiterated her determination to find compromise solutions. Afterward, she traveled to Amman for lunch with Jordan’s King Abdullah, whose country already has a peace treaty with Israel and is a strong supporter of efforts to work out a deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations — which started Tuesday in Egypt and concluded Wednesday in Jerusalem — produced no apparent breakthrough. Both sides said they would continue striving toward their goal of a final settlement within one year.

Dates for the next round of negotiations at the leaders’ level are supposed to be determined during consultations next week.

Gaza militants opposed to the peace efforts have heated up the border with Israel in recent days, sending mortars and rockets crashing into southern Israeli communities and drawing retaliatory Israeli airstrikes.

Overnight, Israeli aircraft hit two Gaza targets that the military described as weapons storage facilities. No casualties were reported.

Palestinian official Raed Fattouh, who coordinates the flow of goods into Gaza with Israel, said the Israeli military also canceled plans to let new cars enter Gaza on Thursday for the first time in four years. The Israeli military had no immediate confirmation.

George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s envoy for Middle East peace, was traveling separately to Syria on Thursday for talks with senior government officials about starting a separate Syria-Israel peace negotiation. Later Thursday he was due to travel to Lebanon.

Michele Dunne, a Mideast expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Thursday she believes Mr. Abbas can deliver on peace negotiations despite his political weakness.

“But if it comes to closing a deal, he would need a stronger Palestinian base than he now has,” Ms. Dunne said. She said that means reaching some kind of an accommodation with Hamas “so that, at a minimum, they don’t actively oppose the deal.”

Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh contributed to this report.

 

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