Abbas to consult Arab ministers on peace talks
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Sunday he would meet Arab foreign ministers on October 4 to decide how to proceed with peace talks following the expected resumption of settlement construction.
Abbas appeared to have decided to consult the Arab League ministers once a partial moratorium on Israeli settlements expires later on Sunday instead of immediately walking out of US-backed peace talks relaunched earlier this month.
He told AFP that in addition to the meeting with Arab ministers he would convene the governing bodies of his Fatah movement and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) to decide on his future course.
They will discuss "the continuation of negotiations in light of the decisions Israel takes on the settlement freeze, whether they are negative or positive, whether they continue the freeze or resume settlement activity," Abbas told AFP on a flight from New York to Paris.
US, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators have been struggling for weeks to reach a compromise on settlements, with Washington urging Israel to extend the restrictions and the Palestinians to remain at the negotiating table.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he would be open to some kind of compromise but that building will resume, and settler groups have deployed bulldozers and cement trucks on at least two construction sites.
Abbas, meanwhile, faces mounting calls to withdraw from the peace talks, both from his rivals in the militant Hamas movement ruling Gaza and smaller factions in his own PLO.
"The continuation of these negotiations is a crime against the Palestinian people and a dangerous and slippery slope," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said on Sunday in a statement issued in Gaza.
"In light of the arrogance and pomposity of the Zionists, Mahmud Abbas must immediately withdraw from these negotiations and announce their end."
Meanwhile, the left wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) said it had suspended participation in the powerful PLO Executive Committee over both the peace talks and the umbrella group's decision-making process.
The PLO, dominated by Abbas's Fatah movement since it was founded in the mid-1960s, is the sole international representative of the Palestinians, and includes most factions but not Hamas.
The latest round of peace talks was launched on September 2 after months of shuttle diplomacy. The last round of direct negotiations collapsed in December 2008 after the outbreak of the 22-day Gaza war.
Abbas was to meet local Jewish leaders in Paris on Sunday before talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Francois Fillon on Monday to "explore developments in the peace process," his spokesman said.
"Abbas will update Sarkozy on the latest results of the international and American efforts to press Israel to continue the freeze of settlements as a necessity for continuing the negotiations," Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP.
Abbas will meanwhile continue efforts to reach out to the Jewish community after similar meetings with Jewish leaders in the United States.
Abu Rudeina said the Palestinian president would encourage French Jews to "play a positive role in the peace process in the region."
© 2010 AFP