Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Wednesday his peace negotiators had resigned over the lack of progress in U.S.-brokered peace talks clouded by Israeli settlement building.
The development would mark a new low point for the talks with Israel that resumed in July and which officials from both sides have said have made little headway.
In an interview with Egyptian CBC television, Abbas suggested the negotiations would continue even if the Palestinian delegation stuck to its decision.
“Either we can convince it to return, and we’re trying with them, or we form a new delegation,” he said.
It was unclear from Abbas’s interview when the Palestinian negotiators had quit, but Abbas said he would need about a week to resume the talks.
In a statement to Reuters TV on Wednesday, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat did not elaborate on the report of his resignation, but said the sessions with Israel were frozen.
“In reality, the negotiations stopped last week in light of the settlement announcements last week,” he said.
Abbas threatened to call off peace talks on Tuesday night after news broke of Israeli plans to construct some 24,000 homes in the West Bank, demanding Israel go back on its plans, and called for an emergency meeting Wednesday in Ramallah to discuss the issue.
That night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a halt to the construction.
A senior Palestinian official told Haaretz there is a growing demand among Palestinian leadership to stop the negotiations and turn to UN bodies, however aides close to Abbas believed he would not make good on the threat without coordinating with the Americans first.
Earlier in November, Abbas said the Palestinians promised the United States to carry on negotiations for nine months and that they intended to keep that promise.
Since the talks got underway after a three-year break, Israel has announced plans for several thousand new settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – now controlled by Hamas Islamist opposed to Abbas’s peace moves – with East Jerusalem as its capital. They fear Israeli settlements will deny them a viable country.
Israel cites historical and biblical links to the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where more than 500,000 Israelis live alongside 2.5 million Palestinians.