The Palestinians are warning that the new round of Middle East peace talks announced Friday by the Obama administration could be over as soon as they begin if Israel continues new construction in the West Bank.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would come to Washington on Sept. 2 to sit down at the negotiating table, a big step for President Obama's goal to restart the peace process.
The goal will be a two-state solution and “to resolve all final status issues, which we believe can be completed within one year,” Clinton said. She added that the talks should take place “without preconditions” and warned both Israelis and Palestinians to take actions “that help advance our cause, not to hinder it.”
A 10-month Israeli settlement freeze in the West Bank is set to expire Sept. 26. Tel Aviv could choose to extend the moratorium or let it expire.
An expiration, the chief Palestinian negotiator told media outlets, would mean his side would step away from the talks.
“If we launch the talks and then Mr. Netanyahu will choose to poke us in the eye by tendering and ending the moratorium, he will have killed the negotiations,” Saeb Erakat told Bloomberg on Friday.
"If the Israeli government decides to announce new tenders on September 26, then we won't be able to continue with the talks," he told Al-Jazeera.
Palestinian Liberation Organization leaders met overnight Friday and decided to accept the U.S. invitation to negotiations, Agence France-Presse reported.
Netanyahu has said construction will continue in East Jerusalem, also a sore spot with Palestinians as they wish to claim East Jerusalem as their capital in a Palestinian state.
“The prime minister has been calling for direct negotiations for the past year and a half,” Netanyahu's office said in a statement. “He was pleased with the American clarification that the talks would be without preconditions.”
Netanyahu and Abbas are expected to first meet individually with Obama on Sept. 1, when Obama will also sit down with King Abdullah of Jordan and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The four then will dine with Obama that evening.
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said it would shun the U.S. invitation to talks, calling the "invitation and the promises included in it empty."