Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is shown at the meeting… (Abbas Momani, AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from Ramallah, West Bank, and Jerusalem — In the latest blow to Mideast peace talks, Palestinian leaders said Saturday that they had lost hope in U.S. efforts to find a solution to the settlement construction standoff and repeated their threat to quit direct negotiations unless Israel agrees to halt building in the West Bank.
After a three-hour meeting in Ramallah, the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee and the Fatah party's Central Committee stopped short of announcing their withdrawal from the discussions and indicated they would continue to talk in the coming days to U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell, who left the region Friday after making little progress in crafting a compromise.
A final decision could be announced after an Arab League meeting scheduled for Friday.
But in their bluntest terms yet, the Palestinians blamed Israel for refusing to renew its partial freeze on West Bank settlements and said they had no confidence in Washington's ability broker a deal.
"The U.S. tried to find a formula, but it failed because Israel would not respond," said Nabil abu Rudaineh, spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. "All efforts have reached a deadlock. There is no breakthrough, and conditions will be at a stalemate for a long time."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far rebuffed calls from the U.S., U.N., European Union, Russia and Japan to extend the moratorium, which expired Sept. 26. Netanyahu, who is worried about a backlash from his conservative coalition government, has rejected a U.S. offer to provide advanced military equipment, the diplomatic backing in the U.N. and other concessions in exchange for a two-month extension, according to Israeli media.
In a statement Saturday, Netanyahu urged Palestinians to remain in the talks.
"The way to achieve an historic peace agreement between our two nations is to sit around the negotiating table, seriously and continuously, and not to leave it, because that is the place where the divisions between us will be resolved," Netanyahu said.
If talks collapse, Palestinians say they may appeal to the U.N. Security Council for a resolution calling for Israel to stop all settlement activities, said Bassam Salhi, a PLO member.
"The government of Israel bears full responsibility for the current impasse in the peace process," said Yasser Abed-Rabbo, secretary-general of the PLO's Executive Committee. "Stopping settlements is the tangible evidence of the seriousness of the negotiations and the entire political process."
Special correspondent Abukhater reported from Ramallah and Times staff writer Sanders from Jerusalem.