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West Bank dispute: Palestinian leader gives peace talks one-week reprieve

One day after Israeli moratorium on settlements expires, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delays his decision on whether to quit the US-backed Middle East peace talks for one week.

By Staff writer / September 27, 2010

Israeli contractors look at maps as they stand at a construction site in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel, Sept. 27.

Ariel Schalit/AP

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Washington

The US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were handed a reprieve Monday when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he would not decide for one week whether to quit the talks in protest over Israel’s resumption of settlement construction.

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With the sword hanging over the talks just relaunched by President Obama this month lowered at least temporarily, US officials starting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton planned to press both Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in the coming days to try to reach a compromise – so far elusive – to allow the talks to continue.

Special Mideast envoy George Mitchell was to leave Monday evening for several days of meetings in the region aimed at keeping the talks alive.

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Determining the outcome of American mediation will be whether the two sides are close enough for any proposed compromise to satisfy both sides, some Mideast experts say.

“The Americans have a long history – if they think the two sides are close enough – of coming up with suggestions for bridging proposals,” says Patrick Clawson, deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The question is, do the Americans see this as that kind of situation,” he adds, “because it’s clearly the domestic situations on the two sides that will drive this.”

One key to the talks’ prospects will be other Arab countries, whose leaders Mr. Abbas said he will consult before an Arab League meeting on Oct. 4. Arab League leaders were instrumental in convincing Abbas to return to direct talks that are not well-viewed by many Palestinians. Now he will gauge how much more political cover the Arabs have to offer for any decision to continue talking despite Israel’s return to settlement construction.

On Sunday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s allowed a moratorium on settlement construction to expire, rejecting calls from Mr. Obama and other international leaders that the 10-month partial building freeze be extended to allow the nascent talks to continue.

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