Israeli settlement freeze not enough: Abbas

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dismisses as insufficient an Israeli plan to halt new construction of West Bank settlements, saying it won't be enough to restart peace talks.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas receives a replica of Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar's sword from Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez in Caracas on Friday. ((Ariana Cubillos/Associated Press))
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has dismissed  as insufficient an Israeli plan to halt new construction of West Bank settlements, saying it won't be enough to restart peace talks.

Abbas said Friday during his first visit to Venezuela that "we can't accept the current Israeli government's concept for the negotiations."

He said Wednesday's announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of a 10-month halt to new construction in West Bank Jewish settlements "didn't bring anything new" because construction would continue in east Jerusalem and in the West Bank, regardless of a freeze on new settlement building.

"The Israeli prime minister had to choose between peace and occupation," Abbas said in a speech to Venezuelan legislators. "Lamentably, he chose occupation."

Netanyahu's announcement came after U.S. pressure in an attempt to revive long-frozen peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis. But Palestinians have demanded Israel completely halt Jewish settlement building.

Netanyahu's plan does not include a building freeze in Jewish neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem, a swath of the city the Palestinians want as the capital of a future state, and it would not apply to some 3,000 homes already under construction in the West Bank.

About 300,000 Israelis live in settlements across the West Bank, and an additional 180,000 Israelis live in Jewish neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem, a territory annexed to Israel after it seized it in the 1967 Mideast war.

Abbas visited Caracas at the end of a South American tour that also took him to Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Paraguay to build support for efforts toward a Palestinian state.

Abbas met Friday night with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has stepped squarely into Middle East politics this week by hosting both the Palestinian leader and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Chavez again praises 'The Jackal'

Standing beside Abbas at the presidential palace, Chavez saluted the Palestinians for what he called their "fight against the Yankee empire … against the genocidal state of Israel, which attacks, which kills, which attempts to exterminate the Palestinian people."

Abbas thanked the Chavez government for its support and said: "We're all on the same path."

During a meeting at the palace, Chavez presented his guest with an olive branch and a gold-plated replica of a sword that once belonged to 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar — Venezuela's most revered founding father.

"We want peace," Chavez said, then hugged Abbas. "May this sword never need to be unsheathed."

Chavez once again lauded Carlos the Jackal, who is serving a life sentence in a French prison for the 1975 murders of two French secret agents and an alleged informant.

Chavez praised Carlos — whose real name is Ilich Ramirez Sanchez — as "a soldier of the Palestinian Liberation Organization who represented all of us in the Palestinian struggle."

Ramirez Sanchez has testified that he led a 1975 attack that killed three people at the OPEC headquarters in Vienna. He also has been linked to the 1976 hijacking of an Air France jet.

Earlier this week, Chavez extolled Ramirez Sanchez as a "revolutionary fighter," prompting the French Foreign Ministry to raise the issue with Venezuela's ambassador in Paris and drawing criticism from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish rights group.