By Tom Perry
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – President Mahmoud Abbas said on Tuesday the Palestinians would only resume peace talks if Israel fully halted settlement building in the occupied West Bank, but ruled out any return to violence.
Addressing a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s central council, which is expected to extend his term as president, Abbas dismissed Israel’s partial settlement freeze and said the Israelis did not want negotiations.
Abbas, who is under pressure from the United States and the European Union to resume talks that have been frozen for the past year, said he was not setting terms but simply reiterating Israel’s obligations under the “road map” agreement for talks.
“When Israel stops settlement activity for a specific period and when it recognizes the borders we are calling for, and these are the legal borders, there would be nothing to prevent us from going to negotiations,” Abbas told the PLO meeting in Ramallah.
Expressing frustration over what he said was Israel’s failure to carry out its obligations, Abbas said: “Where do they want to take us? What is required of us? There is one thing I will not accept: a return to violence.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused the Palestinians of delaying talks. Abbas, who replaced the late Yasser Arafat as Palestinian leader in 2004, said Israel was simply deflecting the blame.
“It does not want negotiations,” he said.
The 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement building announced by Israel last month does not include public buildings or around 3,000 already approved houses.
It does not apply to East Jerusalem areas in the West Bank which the Jewish state has annexed in a move not recognized internationally. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.
Abbas’s presidency of the Palestinian Authority expires on January 25. An election to choose his successor was canceled after the Islamist Hamas movement said it would prohibit voting in the Gaza Strip, which it controls. The veteran Fatah movement, headed by Abbas, dominates politics in the West Bank.
Abbas has said he will not seek a second term. But he has no successor and is expected to agree to stay on indefinitely.
Hamas, which defeated Fatah in 2006 legislative elections, does not “believe in democracy or the nation,” Abbas said.
Hamas is not part of the PLO, which was founded in 1964. Recognized internationally as the representative of the Palestinians, the PLO is dominated by the Fatah movement led by Abbas. Fatah has called on Abbas to stay in office.
Hamas has said any PLO extension of Abbas’s term would be illegitimate. Unlike Abbas and the PLO, who are ready to negotiate a treaty with Israel, Hamas remains committed to armed struggle against the Jewish state.
The PLO central council was expected to reject “American-Israeli pressure” on Abbas to resume peace talks, according to an early draft statement obtained by Reuters.