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Erekat: More than 100 countries back UN action

Jan. 20, 2011 10:03 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 22, 2011 6:16 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The chief PLO negotiator says he has the backing of more than 100 countries for a resolution condemning settlements at the UN Security Council.

Saeb Erekat told Ma’an radio that the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah would not postpone efforts to condemn settlements until after the Quartet meets, despite reports to the contrary.

Erekat also denied reports that he would hold a meeting with Israeli officials during the visit of US envoys Dennis Ross and George Mitchell, saying he had no knowledge of their travel plans.

The official speculated that reports of a return to talks in the Israeli media were "propaganda" to reassure the Israeli public that everything is all right.

Nevertheless, he said, the PLO, the Fatah central committee, and President Mahmoud Abbas have made their final decision to suspend negotiations until Israel commits to complete cessation of settlement in the Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem.

Commenting on recent remarks by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Erekat said the Palestinians were not waiting for a new Israeli government, just for the current one to respect its obligations and cease settlements.

He accused Netanyahu of closing the door to negotiations and peace by choosing settlements.

The UK's minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, said Wednesday that Britain would "consider any draft resolution carefully," but that the priority of the government remained a return to direct negotiations.

"Anything that is a hurdle, or a barrier to be cleared, is not particularly helpful. We’ve said that in relation to the settlements," Burt said, applying the idea also to the resolution condemning those settlements.

The principle element to be determined in the consideration of the resolution, he said, was to understand how it fit into the policy on the return to direct negotiations.

Palestinian officials, in their bid to have the resolution adopted, have said that a UN reaffirmation on the issue and a forced end to settlement construction -- which US mediators failed to secure during two months of bilateral talks -- would open the door to a return to negotiations.

On Wednesday, PLO negotiator Nabil Sha'ath told a delegation of French senators that he believed the US would not use its veto, given all the statements from the administration condemning settlements and their continued construction.

Israeli analysts, however, have said the US has made it clear that officials would not let the resolution pass, prompting cries from critics and accusations that US statements have been confined to rhetoric.

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