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Abbas Admits He's Under Pressure to Drop Preconditions

PA Chairman admits he is under international pressure to resume talks with Israel and drop demands for a construction freeze.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 5/30/2013, 4:16 AM

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas
Flash 90

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is reportedly between a rock and a hard place as he ponders whether to accept a request by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to resume peace talks with Israeli.

Abbas has reportedly told advisers that as the U.S. tries to restart Mideast peace talks, he is under intense international pressure to return to negotiations with Israel and drop his long standing precondition of a freeze on Jewish construction in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem.

PA officials told the Associated Press on Wednesday that in a closed meeting, Abbas lamented his difficult choice: Rebuff the Americans and alienate Washington, or cave in, drop the demand that Israel freeze construction and face an uproar at home.

"There is pressure on us from international parties who are saying we should give the Americans a chance," said Hana Amireh, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's decision-making executive council.

"What the Americans are talking about is negotiations over security and borders, and some confidence-building measures, and asking both sides to refrain from any provocative acts," Amireh told AP.

Abbas has reportedly rejected a proposal from Kerry for Israel to halt most construction, but allow building to proceed in the so called "settlement blocs". At the same time, he is wary of turning down the whole U.S. initiative, fearing he would be blamed for the failure. He is concerned about a public backlash at home if he returns to negotiations without winning any significant concessions.

The peace talks with Israel broke down in 2010, when Abbas refused to negotiate with Israel even though it agreed to his precondition and froze construction in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem for 10 months. Instead, he has continued to impose preconditions on talks with Israel.

In recent weeks, Kerry has been pushing the sides to resume peace talks, and reports last week indicated that he has proposed that Israel freeze construction east of the 1949 armistice line so the talks can resume.

It was not clear if Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded favorably to Kerry’s suggestion of a new construction freeze.

As part of his efforts to lure the sides back to the negotiating table, Kerry unveiled a plan to boost the Palestinian Authority’s economy by attracting $4 billion in private investment.

Kerry said the plan could transform the lives of PA Arabs, adding it was also imperative to create jobs and meet the hopes of young people for a better economic future.

Israel has not officially responded to the plan, but it was given a cool reception by the PA, which stated that it would “not offer political concessions in exchange for economic benefits.”