Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at the weekend not only rejected an American request that he restart direct peace talks with Israel, he introduced a new precondition that will make resuming direct negotiations almost impossible.
Abbas met with US envoy George Mitchell for over three hours in Ramallah on Saturday. Mitchell pointed out that Israel is ready for direct peace talks, and strongly urged Abbas to return to the negotiating table as it is becoming clear to everyone that the Palestinian leader is the main obstacle to peace.
But Abbas remained adamant that he will not sit down with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu until the latter agrees to fully halt all Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria permanently. That demand extends to the eastern half of Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as their future capital.
Later in the day, Abbas spoke to Jordanian newspaper al Ghad and introduced the new precondition that Israel must agree to the stationing of a foreign military force in Judea and Samaria before he will resume direct negotiations.
Abbas insisted that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had verbally agreed to such a condition, and that Netanyahu must honor that commitment. Even if he did agree to a foreign peacekeeping force, Olmert's decision was never ratified by the government.
Other Israeli leaders, including some in the current government, have expressed a willingness to try foreign peacekeepers in Judea and Samaria, but have pointed out that past and current peacekeeping forces have failed to do their job.
For instance, the 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon is now known to have utterly failed to prevent Hizballah from rearming and threatening the Jewish state with tens of thousands of missiles. Similarly, the European peacekeeping force that took over the Rafah crossing in southern Gaza after Israel's withdrawal in 2005 fled the area at the first sign violence, allowing Hamas and its terrorist allies to import large quantities of weapons.
Many Israelis fear a peacekeeping force in Judea and Samaria would serve no purpose but to prevent Israeli forces from carrying out anti-terror operations.