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Palestinians see danger for Abbas in resumed Israel peace talks

Middle East peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians may resume in September. Palestinians warn it could be 'political suicide' for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

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''This is political suicide for Abbas, it will weaken him, not only in the face of Hamas but also from within Fatah,'' says Hani Masri, director of the Badael think tank in the West Bank capital of Ramallah. ''People will see the settlements continuing to be built and his credibility will come to its lowest point. The [Palestinian] Authority will get weaker and weaker.''

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Fatah is Mr. Abbas' political party while Hamas is the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip.

The return to direct talks marks a stark turnaround from Abbas's earlier statements that no negotiations would happen until all Jewish West Bank settlement was halted. Palestinians see settlements as eating away at the territory of their future state, and so see talks as useless in the face of their expansion.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to halt all construction, although in November 2009 he did agree to a limited slowdown of building that is due to expire on Sept. 26.

The Obama administration, which initially appeared to back Abbas's demand for a halt in Israeli settlements, has since softened its position. The Middle East Quartet's statement did not explicitly repeat earlier calls for a settlement freeze.

''Abbas is so weak he will go back to the negotiations even though he knows he will gain nothing," says Hassan Khreisheh, an independent member of the Palestinian Legislative Council from Tulkarem in the West Bank.

Hamas's prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, said "there is no use at all in resuming the negotiations."

The last round of direct talks was held in December 2008 between Abbas and then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Abbas ended negotiations that month when Israel launched a devastating Army operation in Gaza. Indirect contacts only resumed in May 2010, with each side holding separate negotations with US envoy George Mitchell.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said he has not seen the invitation and does not know when it will arrive. Israeli officials said Thursday they wanted no preconditions for resuming the talks.