Israelis and Palestinians have no alternative but to negotiate, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday, as he met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, amid efforts to make progress in the direct talks between the parties.
"We have no choice but to continue these efforts," he added, in what may be seen as a hint he will not carry out his threat to leave the talks if Israel does not extend a 10-month freeze on construction in West Bank settlements beyond its Sep 26 expiry date.
However Abbas aide Nabil Abu Rudeineh later told journalists that the president had stressed to Clinton that the Palestinian position was a "requirement" for continuing the peace process, especially as regards the settlement issue.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and other officials from his government, have intimated that Israel will not extend the 10-month, partial freeze on construction in West Bank settlements, despite the Palestinians' oft-voiced threats, and entreaties to do so from the US and the EU.
But according to unconfirmed media reports this week, the US is now trying to broker a compromise which would allow the talks to proceed without a Palestinian walk-out.
According to the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat daily Thursday, Abbas has accepted a US proposal that he continue to negotiate with Israel in return for the Jewish State extending a building freeze for another three months.
Wednesday, as Clinton met in Jerusalem with Israeli officials, and with Abbas and Netanyahu, the Israeli mass-circulation Ma'ariv daily reported that another possibility being considered by Netanyahu is that Israel will continue to build in its settlements, at a rate of 1,500 to 2,000 housing units per year.
The Israeli leader is also suggesting that the homes only be built in 1.9 percent of the West Bank, i.e. the areas which Abbas and former Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert have already agreed would remain under Israeli control in any future agreement.
Abu Rudeineh said the talks Abbas and Clinton held Thursday were "deep and serious," as they reviewed the previous two days of Israeli-Palestinian discussions.
Clinton, on entering the meeting, said that "all of us - led by President Obama - are very committed and determined to move toward a peace agreement to direct negotations that would lead to an independent and sovereign Palestinian state that would realise the aspirations of the Palestinian people".
In addition to their meeting in Jerusalem Wednesday, Abbas and Netanyahu also held talks Tuesday in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
US Middle East envoy George Mitchell told reporters after the meetings Tuesday that the sides had begun tackling the "tough" and "most difficult" core issues of their mutual conflict, and the negotiations had moved "very quickly" and "vigorously" to serious and substantial questions.
He said the parties had, "within a matter of literally days" progressed to discussing the "most difficult and sensitive issues they will confront", and noted that the sides in the Northern Ireland peace process had taken "many many months" before they had a serious and substantive discussion on the major issues which separated them.
The direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations kicked off at the beginning of the month, after a hiatus of nearly two years, and following several months of indirect talks.