RAMALLAH, West Bank Palestinians held fast on Tuesday to their threat to quit peace talks with Israel if settlement building does not cease, giving a U.S. Middle East envoy a final chance to try to save the negotiations.
"Of course we don't want to end negotiations, we want to continue. But if colonization continues we will be forced to end them," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Europe 1 radio.
"We will wait until after a meeting between Palestinians, and an Arab forum meeting on October 4 ... So (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu has a week to decide."
U.S. President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, was due to meet Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak later in the day in Tel Aviv. He was also expected to hold talks with Netanyahu and Abbas over the next several days.
A 10-month moratorium on housing starts in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank expired on Monday after Netanyahu rebuffed calls by Obama and other foreign leaders to extend it.
The collapse of a peace process launched at the White House only four weeks ago would be a major political embarrassment for the U.S. leader, who faces the prospect of losses by his Democratic party in congressional mid-term election on November 2.
"The president (Abbas) wants to listen to Mitchell," Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath told Reuters. Maybe the Israelis will reassess their position and see the whole world is against the continuation of settlement activities."
Shaath said that "in reality, there are no negotiations" at present, echoing comments made on Monday by a U.S. State Department spokesman.
"There will be no negotiations until Israel halts settlements," Shaath said. "We want to give the Israelis and the Americans a few days (to resolve the issue)."
Netanyahu, who has urged settlers to show restraint, has held out the prospect of limiting the scope of renewed building in the West Bank, land that Israel captured from Jordan in a 1967 war and which Palestinians want as part of a future state.
The Israeli leader, whose governing coalition is dominated by pro-settler parties, has described demands for a further building freeze as unacceptable preconditions for talks and said the settlement issue should be decided at the negotiating table.
Since the limited moratorium expired, construction work has resumed at several settlements but there has been little sign of widescale building, during a week-long Jewish holiday when many Israelis are on vacation.
Palestinians fear settlements will deny them a contiguous and viable state.
Netanyahu imposed the freeze on housing starts in the West Bank settlements in November under pressure from Obama to help coax Abbas back into direct talks after a 20-month hiatus.
The moratorium did not cover homes whose construction was under way, and government statistics show nearly 2,400 units are currently being built on land Palestinians want for a state.
Settler groups pledged that construction would begin on some 2,000 homes next week, after the end of the Jewish religious festival of Sukkoth when many Israelis are on vacation and businesses operate on a limited holiday schedule.
Nearly 500,000 Jews live in well over 100 settlements established across the West Bank and East Jerusalem on land that Israel captured from Jordan in a 1967 Middle East war. The World Court deems settlements illegal but Israel disputes this. Some 2.5 million Palestinians live in the same areas.