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 reiterated his position on peace talks in a speech to Israel's parliament, the Knesset, Monday evening.
Netanyahu, speaking at the podium just before Hollande, called on the Palestinian president to address the Knesset and said he would go to Ramallah. "Lets' break the stalemate," Netanyahu said. "In order for peace to be real it has to be a two way street," Netanyahu said. "You cannot ask the Jews to recognize a Palestinian national state without demanding from the Palestinians that they recognize the national state of the Jewish people," he said.
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." In his speech at Israel's parliament Monday evening, Hollande said his country would not let Iran get nuclear weapons, saying it would endanger Israel and other countries.
Netanyahu has expressed dismay over a possible deal between Iran and six world powers, including France, that could lift some sanctions while leaving Tehran with uranium-enrichment capabilities. Israel views a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its very existence, citing its repeated calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, Tehran's long-range missile program and its support for violent anti-Israel groups like the Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful means.
Associated Press writers Tia Goldenberg in Jerusalem and Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City contributed to this report.