Font Size

- Aa +

Sun 6 Sep 2009 02:15 AM

Font Size

- Aa +

Abbas rejects Netanyahu talks if settlements grow

No point in meeting Israeli PM if settlements expansion precedes freeze.

Abbas rejects Netanyahu talks if settlements grow
MAHMUD ABBAS: Palestinian president in more optimistic times with then US President, George Bush. (Getty Images)

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said on Saturday he sees no point in meeting Benjamin Netanyahu if the Israeli premier approves a fast expansion of West Bank settlements before considering a freeze.Abbas, in Cairo for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, told reporters that such a move by Netanyahu, who has been under US pressure to halt settlement construction, would mean he was not serious about peace talks.

"It would mean that he doesn't want to do anything, and there's no need to meet him," Abbas said, insisting again that Israel should freeze settlements as a first step to peace negotiations.

An Israeli government official told AFP on Friday that Netanyahu will approve the construction of hundreds of homes in West Bank settlements before implementing a freeze.

Netanyahu would place a moratorium on settlement expansion "for a few months" after the green light is given to build the new homes, the official said.

The announcement drew outrage from the Palestinians, while the United States, which is trying to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians, said it was inconsistent with peace efforts.

Israeli President Shimon Peres told Fox News in an interview last week that Obama might host a meeting with Abbas and Netanyahu on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly meeting in New York later this month.

The United States wants the conflict to end with a Palestinian state alongside Israel while Arab countries recognise the Jewish state with full diplomatic and trade relations.

But Arab states have ruled out taking any steps until Israel freezes settlements and begins substantive talks with the Palestinians.

The Palestinians, however, are divided into two rival camps, the Islamist Hamas movement controlling the Gaza Strip and Abbas's Fatah running the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Egypt has been brokering a reconciliation deal between the Palestinians aimed at creating a transitional unity government ahead of general elections next year.

Egypt, which has so far failed to achieve an agreement, will propose a new initiative by the end of the week, Abbas said, without giving further details.

Khaled Meshaal, Damascus-based leader of Hamas, was scheduled to arrive in Cairo later on Saturday to meet Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman the following day for talks focussing on reconciliation and a prisoner exchange with Israel.

Egypt is also trying to set up a deal under which Israel would release more than a thousand prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured in a 2006 cross-border raid from Gaza and held by Hamas.

Egyptian and Hamas officials were downplaying reports of an imminent deal ahead of Meshaal's visit.