No negotiations with Israel if settlement expansion continues – Abbas


Cairo : Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said that negotiations could not be held with Israel in light of continuing expansion of settlements, which he described as the “hurdle” created following the Annapolis Conference.

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Speaking to reporters following a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Wednesday, he said he discussed this issue with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in their last meeting, adding that the latter promised to instruct all ministers to suspend settlement-related activities.

Abbas stressed the need for activating the tripartite committee (comprising the Palestinian and Israeli sides, along with the US), which he said would deal with the first phase of the Road Map related to the commitments and responsibilities of the two parties involved in the conflict.

“If things go along this track, we will be open for negotiations and form committees for the final stage of talks,” he said. “We anticipate actual commitment and the suspension of settlement expansion.”

He hoped things would be pushed forward with the upcoming visit of US President George W. Bush to the region.

Asked about Hamas’ initiative for dialogue, Abbas described it as “discouraging” and presenting “nothing new,” but hoped that “our brothers will employ wisdom in order to make positive progress.”

As for his talks with Mubarak, the Palestinian leader said they focused on the issues of Palestinian pilgrims stuck at Rafah Crossing.

In response to a question on whether the US was against inter-Palestinian conciliation, he said: “The US has nothing to do with this, and if there are any efforts being exerted by Egypt or Saudi Arabia or any other Arab or non-Arab party, then no one has the right to hinder these efforts.”

On the US president’s visit to the region, Abbas said that Bush “is supposed to make clear that hurdles hindering negotiations must be removed, the most prominent being the issue of settlement expansion.”

And on the border of 1967 and recent Israeli statements on this, he said: “Our stance is clear on this. We want the borders of 1967.”