Erekat: Israel Must Choose - 'Settlements' or Peace
The chief Palestinian Authority (PA) negotiator, Saeb Erekat, on Monday once again blamed Israel for the lack of progress in peace talks, saying that the Israelis must choose between “settlements” and peace.
Speaking with reporters following PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, Erekat accused Israel of having built more than 10,000 homes in Judea and Samaria since the negotiations began last July.
"Is this progress?" Erekat said, according to The Associated Press (AP).
"We can do it, but I hope and pray that the Israeli government will make the choice: settlements or peace. They can't have both," he declared.
Erekat added that the possibility of continuing the talks past the April deadline did not come up in Abbas’s meetings with Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry.
"The negotiations are up on April 29," he said, according to AP. "You don't need negotiations any more. You need decisions."
During the meeting between Obama and Abbas, the American president told the PA Chairman that both he and Israeli leaders must make tough political decisions and take "risks" for peace.
"As I said to Prime Minister Netanyahu when he was here just a few weeks ago, I believe that now is the time .... to embrace this opportunity," Obama said as he met Abbas in the Oval Office.
"It is very hard, very challenging. We are going to have to take some tough political decisions and risks if we able to move forward," Obama said.
Abbas did not directly address the Israeli government's demand for the PA to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
He did claim, however, through a translator, that the Palestinian Authority had recognized Israel's legitimacy in 1988 and in "1993 we recognized the state of Israel" - though not specifically as a Jewish homeland.
Abbas has consistently said that unless all his preconditions are met, there will be no peace with Israel.
He has also repeatedly refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, due to his belief that millions of descendants of Arabs who fled pre-state Israel must be given the right to “return” to Israel, which could make it a majority-Arab state.
On Sunday night it was reported that Abbas would tell Obama that he would agree to extend negotiations with Israel, but only if Israel frees terrorist leaders and agrees to freeze construction in Judea and Samaria.