The Palestinian president said Monday he would wait at least a week before deciding whether to pull out of Mideast peace talks, giving U.S. mediators precious time to broker a compromise following the end of an Israeli moratorium on West Bank settlement construction.
President Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the newly launched negotiations if Israel resumes building in the settlements. Palestinians oppose all Israeli construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas they claim for a future Palestinian state.
But with the stakes so high, Abbas said during a visit to Paris he would not make any hasty decision on withdrawing. He said he would weigh his options with Palestinian leaders before discussing the matter with the 22-member Arab League next Monday.
"We will not have any quick reactions," he said. "After this chain of meetings, we might publish a position that clears up the position of the Palestinian and Arab people after Israel has refused to freeze settlements."
Abbas on Monday urged the Israeli government to extend the slowdown of settlement construction for three or four months to allow for a discussion of "fundamental issues."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu imposed the slowdown last year to help coax the Palestinians to the negotiating table. But under pressure from pro-settler elements in his governing coalition, Netanyahu has said he will not extend the order, which expired at midnight.
Nonetheless, Netanyahu has left the door open to some sort of compromise. Early Monday, Netanyahu urged the Palestinians to continue negotiations, and his chief negotiator has remained in Washington to work with mediators on reaching a deal.
"The settlement freeze has ended, but intense negotiations are ongoing in Europe, in the Middle East and in Washington to keep the peace talks on track," said CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk.
Falk added that on Monday, Israel's Foreign Minister is expected at the U.N. while Palestinian leaders have called for an emergency meeting of the Arab League foreign ministers.
"A lot is going on behind the scenes to keep the peace negotiations going," Falk reports, "and at least a dozen nations are in the complex negotiations, with the White House weighing in, hoping the talks will not stall."
, there was no subsequent burst of building activity in Jewish West Bank settlements.
One settler leader, Dani Dayan, said land-moving equipment would begin laying the groundwork for new Jewish homes in West Bank settlements Monday. But well into the morning, there were no immediate signs construction would begin in full force.
Oded Revivi, mayor of the Efrat settlement, said banks and developers were reluctant to commit to new building projects because they're afraid construction will be stopped again.
Dayan, citing money problems and developers' previous commitments, predicted that only a few hundred homes would be built in the next few months. "Nothing spectacular is happening" on Monday, he said.
An Israeli military ban on Palestinians prohibiting them from entering Jewish areas of the West Bank could also be an impediment to speedy construction. The ban, imposed as a security precaution throughout the weeklong Jewish Sukkot holiday, prevents Palestinian laborers who actually build the settlements from showing up for work.
Spokesmen for the Palestinians and the Israeli government had no new comment on Monday.
The expiry of the Israeli construction restrictions has threatened to scuttle Mideast peace negotiations, just weeks after they were launched in early September with great fanfare at the White House.
U.S.-led efforts to work out a compromise over the past week failed, though Washington reiterated late Sunday its call for continued construction curbs.
"We remain in close touch with both parties and will be meeting with them again in the coming days," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said. "We remain focused on the goal of advancing negotiations ... and encourage the parties to take constructive actions toward that goal."
Senior Israeli and Palestinian negotiators remained in the U.S. to talk with American officials, but Abbas himself left the U.S. for France. Israel's defense minister and president flew home with no breakthrough to report.
Under heavy U.S. pressure, Netanyahu persuaded his hardline Cabinet to agree to the slowdown last November in a bid to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
The Palestinians initially dismissed the gesture because it did not halt construction on thousands of settlement apartments whose building was already under way. They also objected because it didn't officially apply to east Jerusalem, the sector of the city the Palestinians claim for their future capital - though there has been a de facto construction freeze there for months as well. But after peace talks were launched, the Palestinians demanded that Israel maintain the curbs.
In Paris on Sunday, Abbas said there was only one choice for Israel: "Either peace or settlements."
In a published interview that appeared earlier in the day, he said he wouldn't immediately withdraw from talks and would consult with Arab partners early next month.
Netanyahu - a settlement champion who just last year grudgingly endorsed the notion of a Palestinian state - had faced heavy pressure within his pro-settler governing coalition to resume construction.