RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday spurned a new U.S. effort to revive Mideast peace talks, saying he will not resume negotiations without an Israeli settlement freeze.
With Abbas digging in, an upcoming diplomatic mission by U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell could be doomed from the outset.
Mitchell has said his trip is meant to persuade both sides to resume talks that broke off in December 2008. However, the U.S. has failed to get Israel to freeze settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, lands the Palestinians want for their future state.
Instead, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu only agreed to a 10-month moratorium on housing starts in West Bank settlements. Israel continues to build for Jews in east Jerusalem.
Abbas said Tuesday that he will not resume talks under current conditions. “No, no negotiations,” he told reporters in response to a question. “We won’t agree to resume negotiations without a full settlement freeze, especially in Jerusalem, for a certain period.”
The Obama administration says it wants to get both sides together to talk about the future borders of a Palestinian state. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said such talks would defuse the problem of settlements.
In other developments Tuesday, Israel arrested two more prominent Palestinian organizers of weekly protests against Israel’s West Bank separation barrier.
Activists accuse Israel of trying to stifle legitimate political dissent with its widening arrest campaign. Dozens of protesters have been rounded up since the summer.
The West Bank has been largely pacified and the barrier protests in the villages of Naalin and Bilin are among the last pockets of unrest. The barrier slices off nearly 10 percent of the West Bank, one of the areas the Palestinians want for their state.
Israel says it built the barrier to keep out militants, and considers the protests illegal.
Early Tuesday, the military arrested three men in Naalin, including two protest organizers.