Palestinian cabinet hails Saudi Arabia’s position in favor of Palestinians

President Mubarak discusses with Abu Mazen Palestinian issue developments, starts Gulf tour

Abbas: No resumption of negotiations before settlement freeze in Jerusalem, West Bank

UN asserts Palestinians’ sovereignty over their lands

Israel to go on with plans to build railway in Jerusalem

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of impeding the peace process, after Israeli lawmakers agreed that any proposed peace plan involving the Golan Heights or East Jerusalem should be put to a referendum.

"This step puts obstacles in the way of the political process," Abbas told reporters during the opening of the new headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Ramallah.

"The Israelis want to tell the whole world that they will not withdraw from Jerusalem or the Golan," he said.

While noting that he did not object to Israel putting the final peace deal to a referendum, Abbas said a referendum "on this part or that" meant "obstructions on the way to peace."

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told a news conference that the Israeli parliament vote "is a violation of international law," which considers Jerusalem and the Golan Heights occupied territories.

Israel captured the Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East War, and has since annexed them both.

Syria demands the return of the Golan, a strategic plateau overlooking northern Israel, as a prerequisite for any peace agreement, and Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

The Israeli parliament vote, which passed by a 65 - 33 majority, was also criticized by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who pointed out that "it chains the hands of the government."

Palestinian leaders said that they will not proceed with peace talks with Israel unless the Jewish state completely halts settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

"If there is no complete halt to settlement building on all Palestinian land including Jerusalem, we will not accept it," Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said.

But Israeli settlers who are opposed to a freeze on construction demonstrated in Jerusalem.

About 5,000 people protested for two hours, Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said.

The protest was "the first move in an upcoming struggle," said Benny Katzover, a settler leader in the West Bank.

The demonstration was to press Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "to stop giving in to pressure and guard the State of Israel," Katzover told CNN.

Last week, an Israeli government source said Netanyahu was insisting on a number of conditions for a settlement freeze -- including that such a the freeze would expire in 90 days -- before presenting a agreement to resume peace talks to his cabinet.

The United States is committed to enticing Israeli and Palestinian leaders back into peace talks, a State Department spokesman said.

Netanyahu's office said that discussions about Jerusalem's territory should also be off the table for the talks.

"The Israeli position has been clear all along that building in Jerusalem was, is and will continue," the office said in a statement.

The statement came a week after Netanyahu met with U.S. Secretary of Secretary Hillary Clinton and as details emerged of an American proposal to coax Israel back to negotiations with the Palestinians.

But Abbas distanced himself from any such proposal.

"We told the Americans that we have nothing to do with their package which they want to present to the Israelis because they have their own relations," Abbas told Egypt's Nile News TV.

"But connecting such deals as conditions to resume negotiations is absolutely rejected by our side."

A reported American proposal to resume talks does not include any limit on Israeli construction in East Jerusalem, a source of major conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.

The statement from Netanyahu's office said that the prime minister hopes to wrap up talks soon with the U.S. administration and present to his cabinet a proposed agreement on settlement building "that will reflect the understandings that were achieved with Secretary of State Clinton."

Other Palestinian leaders also said that they were unprepared to reenter peace talks without a broad settlement freeze.

"The Palestinian leadership had decided (it) will go to talks if Israel completely halts settlement construction in the Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem and any partial settlement freeze is not going to be welcomed and accepted by the Palestinian leadership," Mohamad Shtayeh, a Fatah Central Committee member and a member of the Palestinian negotiating team, told CNN.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Council of Ministers has commended the stands of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia under the leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Ibn Abdulaziz and its firm support for the Palestinian people and their causes.

In its session chaired by Palestinian Prime Minister Dr. Salam Fayyad, the Council of Ministers stressed the continuation of the fraternal stands of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia towards Palestinians, noting in this regard the King's hosting of a number of Palestinian pilgrims for Hajj this year.

The Palestinian Authority will begin negotiations with members of the United Nations Security Council on a draft resolution demanding that Israel halt West Bank settlement activity, its envoy to the world body said.

Palestinian Authority Ambassador Riyadh Mansour met in New York with Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant of the U.K., which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month, to inform him of the plan to meet with the representatives of the panel’s 15 member governments.

Mansour said he hoped the council would take action before the end of November.

“With the intensification of the settlement activity, particularly in Jerusalem, we are coming to the Security Council to request action to bring Israel into compliance with international law,” Mansour told reporters after the meeting.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas asked Mansour to seek a Security Council discussion of Israeli settlement construction, spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said in a statement published by the government-run Palestinian news agency Wafa.

An Israeli official responded by saying a resolution to the Middle East conflict will come only through direct negotiations with Israel’s government. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to comment on the Palestinian action.

Abbas made the request after Israel published plans to build homes in east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of their state.

Israel captured the area from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it in a move never internationally recognized.

Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which started Sept. 2 in Washington, stalled on Sept. 26 when Israel ended a partial 10-month freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank. Abbas has said he won’t continue the talks unless Israel stops building settlements.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to meet in New York with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about ways to resume the peace talks. In a text message after meeting with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Netanyahu said he and Clinton will discuss “ways to reach a peace agreement based on broad understandings with the Palestinian people and maybe even with other nations in the Arab world.”

Mansour said that ambassadors from the most recent, current and next chairmen of the Arab Group will join him in talks with Security Council members and entities such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Mauritania held the rotating chairmanship of the group last month and Morocco is the current head. Next month’s chairman hasn’t been determined.

Mansour said it was possible that the Palestinian Authority might revive a draft resolution tabled by Libya two years ago. The resolution, which called for a halt to settlement activity, was never put to a vote.

In an interview with Bloomberg Television in New York, Netanyahu called Palestinian complaints about Israeli settlement construction “way overblown.” He said previous settlement construction hadn’t prevented Egypt or Jordan from concluding peace agreements with Israel.

About 500,000 Jews have moved to the West Bank and Jerusalem since Israel captured the territories in the 1967 Middle East war. The UN says the settlements are illegal, and the International Committee of the Red Cross says they breach the Fourth Geneva Convention governing actions on occupied territory.

Israel says the settlements don’t fall under the convention because the territory wasn’t recognized as belonging to any country before the 1967 war, in which Israel prevailed, and therefore isn’t occupied.

A high-speed train between two major cities seems like a must for a developed nation. But Israel's long-awaited, $2 billion Tel Aviv-Jerusalem railway is turning into a potential political nightmare after planners moved parts of the route into the West Bank.

The route dips twice into the war-won territory, at one point as a shortcut and at another to appease Israelis who objected to tracks in their backyard.

Critics say that violates international law because the construction has seized occupied Palestinian land and won't serve West Bankers.

The Palestinian self-rule government will "resort to all legal and possible diplomatic methods to try to end this violation of Palestinian rights," spokesman Ghassan Khatib said. He called on foreign companies to withdraw from the project.

Companies from Italy and Russia, the latter state-owned, are helping build the line, and a subsidiary of Germany's state railway provided a technical opinion for one segment, albeit inside Israel, according to Israel Railways.

Any project that deepens Israel's hold over West Bank lands would appear to run counter to long-held positions of the European Union and Russia, both members of the Quartet of Mideast mediators. The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967, and the United States is trying to get the two sides into negotiations for a peace deal creating a state.

Israeli government officials say they have taken steps to ensure that the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem line would one day benefit Palestinians.

Transport Ministry spokesman Avner Ovadiah said planning has begun on an extension that would connect Gaza with the city of Ramallah, the West Bank's centre of commerce and government. The West Bank and Gaza lie on opposite sides of Israel, and most of that line would run through Israeli territory.

But researcher Dalit Baum said that idea is "a cynical ploy that is only suggested in order to justify this train route as legal." Baum wrote a report on the project published this week by an Israeli watchdog group, the Coalition of Women for Peace.

Most of the six-kilometer (nearly four-mile) stretch of the railway inside the West Bank runs through tunnels.

However, Israel is taking Palestinian lands, some of them privately owned, for tunnel portals and access roads, Baum said. Most of the land belongs to the Palestinian villages of Beit Iksa and neighboring Beit Surik, whose residents have already been cut off from some of their lands by the construction of Israel's West Bank separation barrier.

The train line will run on the "Israeli" side of the barrier, which Israel portrays as a shield against militants, but which others see as an attempt to draw borders unilaterally.

Omar Hamdan, the Beit Iksa mayor, said the villagers only found out about the plans to lay the tracks through their lands last year when they were alerted by Israeli peace activists. By then, it was too late to object, he said.

Israel's Civil Administration, a branch of the Israeli military responsible for planning permits in the West Bank, said while the West Bank segments for the rail line have been approved in principle, land expropriation orders for Beit Iksa have not yet been issued. Officials said villagers would still have a chance to object once that happens. Local officials estimated at least dozens of acres of Palestinian land would be affected.

Work has already started in the West Bank in parts near Beit Surik and Beit Iksa. The first stretch of the 34-mile (56-kilometre) rail line has been completed, starting at Ben Gurion Airport and running inside Israel.

Planning for the high-speed line began in the mid-1990s, but was repeatedly delayed by objections from environmental groups and local residents.

Originally, the train line was to run within Israeli territory on the edge of Mevasseret Zion, a town just west of Jerusalem and abutting the West Bank. But after residents objected, the line was moved 300 meters (yards) to the north, into the West Bank, cutting into the two Palestinian villages.

"The Israeli planners decided to move the route into the military occupation's jurisdiction to avoid having to negotiate a compromise with Israeli citizens," Baum wrote in her report.

A second segment was planned from the start to take a shortcut through a West Bank enclave that juts into Israel near the Latrun area.

The high-speed train would cut the trip to 28 minutes between Tel Aviv, the seaside metropolis that is Israel's business and cultural centre, and the religious centre and declared political capital, Jerusalem. The current train takes 90 minutes and is rarely used.

The two main highways linking Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, one of which also briefly enters the West Bank enclave at Latrun, often see massive traffic jams at the entrance to each city.

Russia's government-owned Moscow Metrostroy construction company and the private Italian firm Pizzarotti are involved in building the line, along with Israeli firms. The Russia firm is working on one of the West Bank stretches, said Yaron Ravid, a deputy to the director general of Israel Railways. Pizzarotti is building a segment inside Israel, he said, but an access road to the work site goes through the West Bank.

Officials at Pizzarotti and Moscow Metrostroy did not respond to requests for comment.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russia's prime minister, said Metrostroy is required to "fulfill the requirements" under the tender it won. Peskov said only the Israeli government can address the political issues surrounding the railway.

DB International, a subsidiary of German state railway Deutsche Bahn, offered a technical opinion in 2005 about a segment inside Israel amid a dispute between Israel Railways and environmental groups, said Ravid. But Baum, the researcher, said DB International should have been aware of the problematic West Bank segments.

DB International said that it was not involved in the planning or technical layout of the line.

Meanwhile, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak held talks with visiting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in an effort to resume the direct peace negotiations between the Palestinian and Israel.

The meeting came after a U.S. proposal to renew Middle East peace talks, which calls for a new 90-day settlement construction freeze in the West Bank.

The two leaders discussed the U.S. proposal and efforts by the Quartet, Europe and the international community to ensure the Israeli approval of the mandate of a settlement freeze, Egypt's official MENA news agency reported.

They also talked about developments in the Palestinian territories and the efforts to realize an inter- Palestinian reconciliation.

The U.S. State Department said they were ready to offer Israel written security guarantees if it would help to restart the stalled peace talks.

U.S. National Security Advisor Uzi Arad told Israeli media that the United States has given Israel a written guarantee that it won't pressure the Jewish State any further if the country accepts the 90-day settlement freeze proposal.

Early October, the Palestinians halted the U.S.-sponsored direct talks with Israel, four weeks after it resumed in Washington. The decision was made after Israel refused to extend a ten-month moratorium over freezing settlement that ended on Sept. 26.

Abbas had talked with Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman about the latest situation of the peace process.

Moussa said in a press conference that the Arab Peace Initiative Committee will meet once the U.S. stance on the peace process is known.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to seek to convince members of the Israeli Knesset and deputy premiers from the Likud party on the matter.

Jewish settlers gathered outside Israel's weekly cabinet meeting to protest against plans for a possible agreement on settlement freeze.

On the other hand, Mubarak kicked off a Gulf tour with talks in the United Arab Emirates on the stalled Middle East peace process, the official WAM news agency reported.

Mubarak met UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan who “stressed the importance of mobilizing efforts to revive the Middle East peace process... and (enhance) enduring stability in the region,” WAM said.

Mubarak said his visit “comes within the framework of continuous consultations... over current Arab issues with emphasis on the Middle East, the Palestinian cause,” the agency added.

The Egyptian president is on a Gulf tour that will also take him to Qatar and Bahrain.