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Will Abbas get, and accept, a two-month settlement freeze?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is backing a 'loyalty oath' to appease Israel's right wing, and there are indications that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will be offered a two-month settlement freeze to keep peace talks going.

By Ben LynfieldCorrespondent / October 7, 2010

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak (not pictured) at the presidential palace in Cairo, Oct. 5.

Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters

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Ramallah, West Bank

A senior aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has signaled that his side will not abandon peace talks if Israel extends a West Bank settlement construction slowdown for two months.

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Until recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that a new settlement freeze was off the table. But in recent days he's backed plans for a "loyalty oath" to the Jewish state that is popular with his far-right ally Avigdor Lieberman, who has staunchly opposed construction delays until now. That has prompted speculation that Mr. Netanyahu is sweetening the pill for Mr. Lieberman, following reports that the US has promised Israel better weapons and other incentives in exchange for a two month freeze.

Negotiator Nabil Shaath told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the two-month period would be used to forge an agreement on a border between Israel and a future Palestinian state. Mr. Shaath said another settlement freeze would be required if the sides failed to reach agreement during the two months.

Meanwhile, Israel's ambassador to the United States Michael Oren told the Washington Post that the US has offered Israel ''incentives'' that could enable it to ''maybe pass a limited extension of two or three months'' on settlement curbs. Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev declined to specify what the incentives are. ''The talks are delicate, sensitive and any public discussion will torpedo them,'' he said.

David Makovsky, of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote at the end of last month, citing an unidentified source, that President Obama's administration had sent Netanyahu a letter promising better weapons, a US veto of any security council resolutions about the Arab-Israeli conflict, and to pressure an independent Palestine to allow Israel to keep its troops inside the country in exchange for a two-month freeze.

The ball now appears to be in Mr. Abbas's court, and his position will become clearer Friday when he addresses an Arab League meeting over whether to continue direct negotiations with Israel that were launched on September 2. Abbas is in political limbo, with growing numbers of Palestinians doubting that his bet that a viable Palestinian state will be achieved through negotiations with Israel will pay off.

But if he does carry on – as seems likely after Mr. Shaath's comments – it will be a confirmation that at this point, negotiations are what make Mr. Abbas tick.

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