THE decision yesterday of Palestinian legislators to extend indefinitely the term of office of President Mahmoud Abbas made a great deal of sense even if it is not constitutionally correct. Mr Abbas said last month that he did not want to stand for re-election when his term of office ends on January 25; this was widely interpreted as the consequence of his frustration at the lack of progress in peace negotiations with Israel and his disappointment at President Obama's relative inaction. But pressure from Middle East states and elsewhere has probably persuaded Mr Abbas to remain provided that his negotiating tactics have the support of his Fatah party members, an assurance he received yesterday.

The negotiating lines are now clearly drawn. Mr Abbas has offered to resume talks with Israel only if prime minister Netanyahu will commit himself to a six-month freeze on all settlement construction on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem -- a requirement clearly called for in the “road-map” peace plan.

Mr Netanyahu has offered a standstill only on new construction for ten months but excludes East Jerusalem. Yesterday Mr Netanyahu said that the Palestinians should “stop making excuses” but all that they are doing is relying on the US-backed road-map conditions. Israel is using East Jerusalem as a new factor in the negotiations despite last week's endorsement by European Union ministers of Palestinian rights there and its importance as a future capital of a Palestinian state.


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