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Abbas to Netanyahu: Freeze settlements or talks off

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that peace talks are off unless Israel extends a partial moratorium on settlement building.

"It’s really a litmus test, make it or break it," Nabil Shaath, a top aide to Abbas, told JTA., confirming that Abbas raised the freeze in meetings he had Thursday with Netanyahu on the first day of U.S.-sponsored direct talks.

"You don’t negotiate land for peace  when someone is grabbing for more land. We are willing to wait until the 26th of this month for more action."

The moratorium lapses on Sept. 26.

U.S. and Israeli officials refused to comment on whether settlements were even discussed, abiding by what they said was a decision to not describe the contents of the talks.

Abbas and Netanyahu are due to meet again Sept. 14 in Sharm el-Sheik in Egypt, and have committed to meeting every two weeks to advance the talks.

The Obama administration wants a peace agreement within a year.

Netanyahu has suggested that he will end the moratorium, which he imposed 10 months ago as a means of spurring the talks, which at that point were indirect.

Settler groups already have rallied against the moratorium in the wake of two shooting attacks in the West Bank this week that left four Israelis dead.

Danny Dayan, the chairman of the Yesha Council, the settlement umbrella body, told JTA that the settlement movement would seek "political consequences" for Netanyahu should he not end the moratorium. He said the settlers wanted not only a declared end to the moratorium but a substantive increase in proffering for new housing projects.

"We can bring about a crumbling of the Netanyahu government," said Dayan, who was in Washington to activate against the renewed peace talks.

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