Abbas sets Palestinians’ conditions for Netanyahu to resume negotiations

Arab FMs work on collecting $100 million to back PNA

Likud settlers want Aqsa Mosque demolished, Mount Temple built

Haniyeh says Hamas will never recognize Israel

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has told the Arab League he will not resume peace talks without an Israeli settlement freeze.

Abbas is under international pressure to resume low-level border talks that began last month. However, his comments Sunday seemed to close the door to further negotiations because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected a settlement freeze, as well as a demand to accept Israel's pre-1967 war frontier as the basis for a border with a future Palestine.

Abbas says he is sending a letter to Netanyahu with his demands for resuming negotiations. In case of a negative response, Abbas said he will resume the campaign for recognition of a state of Palestine by the U.N.

A rare public rift broke open Sunday in the usually tightly disciplined Islamic movement Hamas over a reconciliation deal that would require it to relinquish key areas of control in the Gaza Strip.

The deal, brokered by Qatar, was signed last week in Doha by Hamas' top leader in exile, Khaled Mashaal, and the chief of the rival Fatah party, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The agreement is to end nearly five years of separate governments — Hamas in Gaza and Abbas in the West Bank — by establishing an interim unity government headed by Abbas that would prepare for Palestinian elections.

Senior Hamas figures in Gaza, who stand to lose most from the deal, said it was unacceptable, while top Hamas loyalists in the West Bank defended the agreement. The argument raised new questions about the ability of Abbas and Mashaal to implement the deal, seen as their best shot yet at healing the rift following Hamas' violent takeover of Gaza in 2007.

Mashaal might be able to put down the unprecedented rebellion against him, but would need the good will and cooperation of Hamas leaders in Gaza to make the agreement work.

Gaza strongman Mahmoud Zahar, one of the masterminds of the Gaza takeover, said Mashaal did not consult with others in the movement before signing the deal. Giving Abbas the post of interim prime minister is "wrong" and "strategically unacceptable," Zahar was quoted as telling the Egyptian news agency MENA on Saturday.

On Sunday, the head of the bloc of Hamas legislators in Gaza, Ismail al-Ashkar, alleged that Fatah has not carried out promised confidence building measures, such as releasing Hamas loyalists held in the West Bank.

"If the elections are to heal all our chronic, complicated problems, how can we have transparent and fair elections under such conditions," al-Ashkar said. "If this agreement is to work, we need to improve it."

Last week, al-Ashkar's parliament bloc came out against the agreement.

In contrast, Hamas lawmakers from the West Bank supported the Doha agreement across the board, according to statements and interviews published on Hamas' official website. Such public debate is rare in the secretive, tightly organized Hamas.

The criticism of the Hamas leaders in Gaza highlights the vulnerability of the Doha agreement.

Abbas needs to satisfy international demands that the interim government — to consist of politically independent technocrats — is not a front for Hamas, shunned as a terror group. If it is seen as too close to Hamas, the Palestinians would likely lose hundreds of millions of dollars in Western aid.

At the same time, he risks sabotage from Hamas leaders in Gaza if he tries to strip them of too much of their power.

"If Abbas forms his government with one color, it won't work in Gaza," said Raed Naerat, a West Bank analyst close to Hamas. "The ministers should be acceptable to Hamas officials."

Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on Sunday supported a Palestinian request for an international peace conference aimed at reaching a comprehensive solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

They stressed “the importance of holding an international peace conference on the Palestinian issue,” in a statement.

The international meeting would seek “an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories and to reach a comprehensive solution to the issues of borders, security, Jerusalem and refugees based on the Arab peace initiative.”

The Arab League also called on its members to contribute financially to support the Palestinian authority with 100 million dollars a month.

The 22-member body said the funds were needed “in light of the financial strain on the Palestinian leadership and Palestinian people, with Israel not transferring the rightful money of the Palestinian Authority.”

Palestinian official Azzam al-Ahmad, in Cairo with Abbas for talks with the Arab League representatives, had said earlier the delegation would seek backing for the conference, without giving further details.

“One of the proposals we will request from the Arab Follow-Up Committee is for a call to convene an international peace conference on the Palestinian issue,” Ahmad told AFP in Ramallah by telephone.

He said the Palestinian delegation was hopeful “that the final statement of the Follow-Up Committee would include a call for an international conference on the Palestinian issue.”

Abbas was in Cairo for talks with the committee, which tracks efforts to advance peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, after five rounds of “exploratory” talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.

The discussions, intended to chart a return to direct negotiations, ended without a deal to continue talks.

Sponsored by the peacemaking Quartet and held in Jordan, the discussions came in the framework of a Quartet bid to kick-start talks.

But the Palestinians say Israel failed to present its parameters for territory and security, as requested by the Quartet, and that they will not hold direct talks without a freeze of Israeli settlement activity.

They also want discussions on borders to be based on the lines that preceded the 1967 Six-Day War.

Ahmad said Abbas would present a “detailed report on the communications and efforts that have been made in this latest period... with particular regard to the exploratory meetings in Amman.”

Israel has urged the Palestinians to begin direct negotiations without preconditions.

The Quartet, which comprises the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia, has also said it wants to see talks resume, but officials — including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon — have called on Israel to provide the Palestinians with goodwill gestures in a bid to lure them back to talks.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has approved the construction of buildings in the West Bank to serve as an educational facility for special-needs youth, his office said on Friday.

The site, named Gevaot and located in the Gush Etzion bloc, "is not a settlement nor is it new in the Gush Etzion regional council, and is part of Alon Shvut," a nearby settlement, the statement from Barak's office said.

"This is an educational institution for a special-needs populace, on state-owned land, enabling to substitute temporary structures with permanent ones at the end of the process," it added.

Acting chairman of the Gush Etzion regional council Yair Wolf told AFP the site, which currently contains approximately 60 caravans, will turn into a village for children with Down's syndrome.

Wolf said the minister's decision would allow the currently run-down site to be transformed "into a high-level institution providing employment to Down syndrome youth".

There is no territorial continuity between Alon Shvut and Gevaot.

Jewish settlements are deeply contentious, with Israeli-Palestinian peace talks grinding to a halt over the issue in late September 2010, just weeks after they were restarted.

The Middle East Quartet -- the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations -- urged both parties on October 26 to come forward with comprehensive proposals on borders and security within three months.

Palestinian officials repeatedly warned they would not continue talks after January 26 unless Israel froze settlement construction and agreed to base any future talks on the lines which existed before the 1967 Six-Day War.

The two sides began exploratory talks last month under the auspices of Jordan to see if they can resume negotiations.

Amman hosted talks on four separate occasions in January, the first since September 2010, but they failed to yield any tangible results.

The international community considers all Jewish settlements built in the West Bank -- including east Jerusalem -- to be illegal.

Members of the Israeli right-wing Likud party called to storm al-Aqsa mosque next Sunday to build the alleged temple on the ruins of the mosque, according to Israeli right wing websites.

Several websites of the Israeli right wing published an announcement on behalf of the Likud party, calling on thousands of the Likud members to storm al-Aqsa mosque along with a delegation headed by Moshe Feiglin, who ran against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for leadership of the party and received 25% of the votes of party members.

The announcement said: “We call upon everyone to go up the Temple Mound, the Haram Ash-Sharif, one of the most important religious sites in the Old City of Jerusalem, to declare a proper leadership which insures our full control of the mount in order to build the temple on the ruins of al-Aqsa Mosque.”

The Jewish settlers’ plan to storm the Aqsa mosque next Sunday would constitute a reincarnation of former Israeli premier Ariel Sharon’s war on the holy site, Taher Al-Nunu, the Gaza government’s spokesman, said. Nunu warned in a terse statement on Thursday of the repercussions of this crime, recalling that a previous “tour” for Sharon in the Aqsa plazas had ignited the Aqsa intifada.

The Aqsa foundation for endowment and heritage has warned of the Israeli occupation authority’s increased violation of the holy Aqsa Mosque’s sanctity.

It warned in a statement on Wednesday of the goals behind allowing Israeli soldiers, males and females, to roam freely in the Aqsa plazas while wearing their uniform. It said that those soldiers were provocatively strolling inside the holy compound and taking photos, noting that they were previously not allowed into the mosque in their uniform since 2000.

The foundation pointed out that 26 soldiers entered the Aqsa compound in two groups on Wednesday morning.

It also condemned the IOA for allowing tourists to enter the holy compound without any consideration to its holiness, recalling that one of them urinated at one of its corners a couple of days earlier in total disregard to the sanctity of the place.

In another incident, 12 Israeli intelligence officers, men and women, entered the Aqsa mosque on Thursday morning and toured its internal compound, while Jewish settlers continue to storm the holy site and try to perform rituals inside it.

Hamas "will never recognize Israel," Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Saturday in a speech in Iran that is likely to complicate Palestinian efforts to form a unity government in the teeth of opposition from the Jewish state.

"They want us to recognize the Israeli occupation and cease resistance but, as the representative of the Palestinian people and in the name of all the world's freedom seekers, I am announcing from Azadi Square in Tehran that we will never recognize Israel," Haniyeh said.

"The resistance will continue until all Palestinian land, including Al-Quds [Jerusalem], has been liberated and all the refugees have returned," he said.

Haniyeh's reiteration of Hamas' long-held stance was made on the occasion of Iran's commemoration of its 1979 Islamic revolution.

The Gaza leader spoke to an estimated crowd of 30,000 from a stage alongside Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "The Iranian people are a partner in this victory," Haniyeh said. "God willing, we will meet you along with other Palestinians in a free Palestine, in its capital Al-Quds," he said.

Israel rejects efforts by Hamas to link up with Fatah, the secular faction of Abbas that runs the occupied West Bank, to form a unity government. It views Hamas as a “terrorist organization” and Iran as its sponsor and weapon supplier.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told U.N. envoys Thursday that a Hamas-Fatah accord signed this week to partner in the new government "does not contribute to the advancement of peace negotiations or the well-being of the Palestinian people."

The so-called Quartet of diplomatic players in the Middle East peace process – the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States – has long demanded that any Palestinian government including Hamas must meet certain conditions to join negotiations.

Those are the renunciation of violence and the recognition of Israel and of past agreements with the Jewish state.

Direct peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have been frozen since September 2010. The Palestinians have demanded that Israel halt settlement construction in the occupied West Bank. Israel rejects any conditions for talks to settle the Middle East conflict.