Freeze over, U.S. trying to push talks

 WASHINGTON (JTA) – The Obama administration says it is seeking ways to advance the Israeli-Palestinian talks in light of the end of Israel’s partial moratorium on settlement building.

"We recognize that given the decision yesterday, we’ve still got a dilemma that we have to resolve and there are no direct negotiations scheduled at this point, but we will be in touch with the parties to see how we move ahead," P.J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, said Monday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend the moratorium beyond its Sept. 26 expiration date, despite pleas from the Obama administration and demands from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas backed down from earlier threats to leave direct talks if the moratorium was not extended, but said at a joint news conference Monday in Paris with French President Nicolas Sarkozy that he will seek advice from the Arab League next week before making a decision. The Arab League’s 22 member countries gave Abbas the green light to relaunch negotiations with Israel in late July.

"We are not rushing to respond and we will study the consequences and their effect on the negotiations," the PA leader said. "After meetings and consultations we will formulate a stance and provide the Palestinian response to the cessation of the freeze."

Crowley suggested that the United States would urge Arab nations to encourage Abbas to stay in the talks.

"We will have further conversations with key countries in the coming days, and we hope that the Arab League meeting will continue to affirm its support for the process," he said.

Crowley joined the United Nations and the British government in expressing "disappointment" that Netanyahu had not extended the partial freeze on building in parts of the West Bank.

At the news conference, Sarkozy said that "Israel must stop building in the settlements." The French leader said he would invite Abbas, Netanyahu and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to hold peace talks in Paris next month.

Abbas met Sunday in Paris with Jewish writers and intellectuals.

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