Palestinians committed to nine months of peace talks

Nov 18, 2013, 7:46 AM EST
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walks with French President Francois Hollande on his arrival at the Palestinian Authority headquarters, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013.
(AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The Palestinians will stay in peace talks with Israel for the planned nine months despite their fierce opposition to Israel's settlement building, the Palestinian president said Monday.

The remarks by Mahmoud Abbas came at a news conference with visiting French President Francois Hollande, who urged Israel to halt settlement construction on lands the Palestinians seek for a future state.

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on the terms of a Palestinian state resumed in late July, with U.S. mediators saying at the time they envision a deal within nine months. Since then, Israel has announced plans for thousands more settlement apartments, sparking Palestinian outrage.

Abbas confirmed on Monday that his chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, submitted his resignation at one point, but said he hasn't accepted it so far.

He reiterated his opposition to settlement building, but said that "we are continuing the negotiations for nine months."

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations had broken down for nearly five years, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent several months getting the sides back to the table.

Under Kerry's terms, the Palestinians agreed not to seek an upgrade of their status at the U.N. or membership in additional U.N. agencies for the duration of the talks, while Israel agreed to release 104 long-held Palestinian prisoners in several stages.

However, Kerry failed to win a pledge from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt settlement construction as part of the ground rules for talks.

Hollande met with Netanyahu on Sunday and is to address Israel's parliament later Monday.

In his earlier remarks in Israel, Hollande said settlements "complicate" the negotiations. In the West Bank, he adopted tougher language.

"France opposes settlements, calls for halting the settlements because they complicate the negotiations and make a two-state solution difficult," Hollande said at his news conference with Abbas.

The Palestinians hope to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

In previous negotiations, the sides raised the idea of using the 1967 lines as a starting point for border talks and allowing for small land swaps that would enable Israel to keep some of the settlements. Netanyahu says he is not bound by understandings reached in previous negotiations and rejects using the 1967 lines as a base point.

Hollande said Monday that France supports these principles. He urged Israelis and Palestinians to make compromises for a peace deal, adding that "we can only encourage you and support you."


Associated Press writers Tia Goldenberg in Jerusalem and Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City contributed to this report.