Abbas offers talks with Israel if building halted

BERLIN Mon Feb 1, 2010 7:19pm EST

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a news conference after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Chancellery in Berlin February 1 , 2010. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a news conference after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Chancellery in Berlin February 1 , 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Thomas Peter

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Monday peace talks with Israel could be restarted if the Israeli government was prepared to put a stop to settlement building for "a certain period."

Abbas has insisted that settlement expansion be halted in the West Bank before negotiations stalled since 2008 may resume.

He had in the past rejected a limited, 10-month construction freeze ordered by Israel in November as insufficient.

"If Israel is prepared to stop settlement building for a certain period...talks could be restarted," Abbas said, speaking through an interpreter at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

He did not expand on how long the period would be, though in an interview with Monday's edition of British newspaper The Guardian, Abbas offered to begin direct talks with Israel in exchange for a complete three-month settlement freeze.

Abbas said Israel would need to accept its June 1967 borders as the basis for any land swaps.

"These are not preconditions, they are requirements in the road map. If they are not prepared to do that, it means they don't want a political solution," he told the newspaper.

Abbas said that "proximity talks" outlined by U.S. Middle East special envoy George Mitchell could provide a way into starting a new peace round. This would allow discussions between the two sides to be pursued via mediators.

Merkel said she and Abbas had held intense discussions and that both were convinced that peace talks toward the creation of a Palestinian state could be launched.

She added that the issue of Palestinian prisoner exchanges with Israel had not been part of their talks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who visited Merkel in Berlin last month, has said he was ready to resume peace talks unconditionally.

But he has refused to halt settlement building in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in 1967 and annexed as part of its capital, a move not recognized internationally. Abbas insists that the construction must end in East Jerusalem.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; writing by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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