Abbas backs decision to boycott products from Israeli settlements, says negotiations with Mitchell make no progress

Obama invites Netanyahu, Abbas for talks

U.S. official underlines importance of building sovereign Palestinian state

Hariri: Israel’s maneuvers not in harmony with region’s wish for peace

Israeli police say Lieberman should be indicted

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Saturday urged Palestinians to boycott products from Jewish settlements in the West Bank, but said this did not apply to items made elsewhere in Israel.

"It is not necessary, under any circumstances, for us to consume goods originating from settlements that were established on our territory," he said in Ramallah, where he met members of the movement that organized the boycott.

"We are very happy that our young people... went voluntarily to empty Palestinian homes of products from the settlements," Abbas added.

Thousands of young Palestinians began a door-to-door campaign on Tuesday against products made in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The initiative was launched by the Karameh (Dignity) Fund, established to promote the Palestinian economy and help those harmed by new restrictions on trade with the settlements.

"We are not boycotting Israel" itself, Abbas said, "because we have relations and we import" products from the Jewish state.

Last month he approved a law banning trade in goods produced in settlements, after a months-long campaign that has featured the public burning of products.

Those found guilty of trading in settlement goods face two to five years in prison and fines of up to 22,000 dollars (16,400 euros).

The Yesha Council, the main settlers' organization, has decried the campaign as "an act of terrorism and ill will."

It has called for the closure of "all Israeli ports to Palestinian imports and exports," and suggested that Palestinian funds held in Israel be used to compensate those companies affected.

Nearly half a million Israelis live in more than 120 settlements in the West Bank. The Palestinians regard the settlements as a threat to the creation of their independent and viable future state.

President Barack Obama has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas to the White House for separate meetings, White House officials said Wednesday.

The meetings with Obama will be the first for the Middle Eastern leaders since the start of indirect peace talks which began last month, with Obama's special envoy George Mitchell mediating between the parties.

But Israeli commentators portrayed the surprise invitation to Netanyahu as an attempt by Obama to counter U.S. criticism of what was widely seen as his cold shoulder toward the Israeli leader after a public dispute over Jewish settlements.

Obama has put both Israel and the Palestinians on notice they will be held accountable if either side takes actions to undermine the so-called "proximity talks" Mitchell is mediating.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel delivered the invitation in person to Netanyahu in Jerusalem Wednesday, while on a family visit to Israel.

Obama will host Netanyahu Tuesday after the Israeli leader completes a visit to France where he will attend a ceremony welcoming Israel to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and to Canada.

"(President Obama) has asked me to extend an invitation to you to come visit with him at the White House for a working meeting to discuss both our shared security interests as well as our close cooperation on seeking peace between Israel and its neighbors," Emanuel told Netanyahu.

In mentioning shared security interests while announcing Netanyahu's visit, Emanuel appeared to be referring to the U.S. and Israel's shared desire to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

In Washington, White House spokesman Tommy Vietor announced Abbas's visit, which had been widely expected, but said no firm date had yet been set.

"The president looks forward to a visit from President Abbas in the near future. We're just working out timing," Vietor said.

Abbas aides were not immediately available for comment but the Palestinian leader told France 24 television this week he had been invited to the United States and thought the meeting would probably be in June.

Getting the two sides to revive negotiations, after an 18-month break, marks Obama's most tangible Middle East achievement since he took office last year. But expectations remain low for any kind of breakthrough.

Netanyahu, who heads a coalition dominated by pro-settler parties, including his own, has rejected a total freeze on Jewish settlement building in territory captured in a 1967 war.

But no new Israeli housing projects in East Jerusalem have been approved since March, raising speculation Netanyahu has imposed a de facto moratorium that could avoid friction with Washington and any showdown with far-right coalition partners.

Earlier that month, Israel embarrassed Washington and angered Palestinians by announcing during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden a project to build 1,600 homes for Jews in Ramat Shlomo, in an area of the occupied West Bank it annexed to Jerusalem.

Palestinians see settlements as an obstacle to the creation of a state they seek to establish in the West Bank, where Abbas holds sway, and in the Gaza Strip, an enclave controlled by Hamas Islamists opposed to the U.S. peace efforts.

Netanyahu last saw Obama in March in a low-profile White House meeting that was portrayed in Israel as a snub to its leader because it did not include the usual photo opportunity afforded visiting foreign leaders.

Israeli media predicted Obama would try in the coming talks to portray the relationship in a warmer light, ensuring photos are taken and possibly holding a news conference with him.

Since their frosty March meeting, Obama has been at pains to reaffirm publicly Washington's commitment to Israel's security.

Israel and the West fear Iran's uranium enrichment is aimed at producing an atomic bomb, an allegation Tehran denies.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Saad Hariri stressed Wednesday that ongoing Israeli occupation of Arab territories hindered peace negotiations and diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“How could dialogue build confidence with continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands and the persistent denial of the national and human rights of the Palestinian people, and more particularly their right to return and to an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital,” Hariri said while addressing the UN Security Council.

The Lebanese premier, who chaired the session because Lebanon holds the council’s presidency for the month of May, added that sectarian and ethnic violence and terrorism should be resolved through “preemptive diplomacy” and cooperation to reach peaceful and just solutions to conflicts.

“Opting for dialogue is responsive to the new or recurrent social and political phenomenon marked by sectarian and ethnic violence and terrorism. It is a means for dealing with their root causes in order to preempt their occurrence through preventive diplomacy,” Hariri said.

Hariri also expressed Lebanon’s commitment to UN Security Council resolutions, adding that they helped “preserve Lebanon’s sovereignty and independence.

“I would like to renew Lebanon’s commitment to the universal ethical values of the UN Charter that guide its diplomacy and programs in mediation and conflict resolution. These values are the basis of intercultural dialogue,” the premier added.

Hariri also reiterated his commitment to parity between Lebanese Christians and Muslims as a unique model of coexistence and dialogue.

“Equal-power sharing between Christians and Muslims is what makes Lebanon a unique hub for dialogue between different cultures,” Hariri added.

Hariri’s visit to the US comes at a time when regional security tensions rose after Israeli accusations that Syria was providing Hezbollah with Scud missiles. Israel says the party has stockpiled sophisticated weaponry which could alter military balance in the region.

US President Barack Obama on Monday relayed US concerns about Syria arming Hezbollah to Hariri during their meeting at the White House.

According to a senior State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity, Secretary of State Assistant for Foreign Affairs Jeffrey Feltman also discussed Monday with Hariri “the importance of the upcoming vote on the resolution for new UN Security Council sanctions against Iran.”

Lebanon, which has members from the pro-Iranian Hezbollah as part of the government, is perceived to be one of the countries on the 15-member UN Security Council opposed to new sanctions against Iran. The others are Turkey and Brazil.

Earlier Wednesday, Hariri warned against stalled Middle East peace negotiations, saying failure to reach peace would promote extremism and terrorism in the region.

“Moderate and Muslim Arab states might be surpassed if time passes without establishing peace,” Hariri said, in a speech at Georgetown University.

“Time is running out for all of us to face global dangers given the increase of extremism and terrorism; the solution is not a military one or through security measures. It is simply through ending despair. Now it is time for work,” he added.

Hariri stressed that any resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should be based on the Arab Peace Initiative launched in Beirut in 2002.

“We should understand that the Mideast issue is not an issue concerning only our region but the world; the incapacity to reach a just resolution to put an end to Palestinian suffering … is a vital issue for all of us,” the Lebanese premier said.

Later, Hariri met with Head of the Congress Foreign Affairs committee Senator John Kerry.

On Tuesday, Hariri emphasized Lebanon’s shared principles of democracy and independence with the US as he voiced hope during a meeting with US Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

For her part, Pelosi stressed the US commitment to help Lebanon implement UN Security Council Resolution 1701.

On the other hand, Israeli police have recommended that the state prosecutor indict Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on charges of breach of trust.

The recommendation to indict Lieberman for allegedly receiving classified information from an ongoing investigation against him for fraud and embezzlement was sent with the case file to the prosecutor on Monday. Police also recommended indicting a former ambassador to Ukraine, Ze’ev Ben Aryeh, on suspicion of providing the information to Lieberman. The recommendations carry no legal weight.

Lieberman was questioned in the case three months ago after Ben Aryeh confessed that he received and passed documents onto Lieberman.

The foreign minister is suspected of laundering millions of shekels through straw companies, including while serving as a public official, and of obstructing the investigation into money laundering. Police had asked Ben Aryeh, when he served as envoy to Belarus, to help in the Lieberman corruption probe by questioning Belarus banks and government officials. Ben Aryeh is accused of turning a copy of the request over to Lieberman in October 2008.

Lieberman is also under suspicion of advancing Ben Aryeh’s position in the Foreign Ministry in exchange for the information. Ben Aryeh served as the legal adviser in Lieberman’s office until the affair came to light.

Lieberman denies any wrongdoing.