Abbas faces hard choice over Israel talks

The next few weeks will be extremely stressful for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The notorious procrastinator, who has shied away from anything like a decision in his five and a half years at the helm of the PA, is under intense pressure to agree to direct negotiations with the Netanyahu government - and not even his Arab allies are prepared to help him out.

Last Thursday, the Arab League convened in Cairo and gave Mr Abbas authority to decide on the resumption of talks with Israel, at his discretion.

Mr Abbas has little hope that Mr Netanyahu will offer him a settlement anywhere near those already offered the Palestinians by previous prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak. They were turned down anyway, and the talks will only give his Hamas rivals more ammunition with which to attack him and his administration for being defeatist in the face of the Zionists.

Since Mr Netanyahu was sworn in 16 months ago, Mr Abbas's constant refrain has been that Israel must first freeze all settlement building before he agrees to talks. When Israel did just that, he said that the ten-month moratorium was insufficient and that the freeze must be indefinite. But he reckoned without Barack Obama.

The American president has now switched his attention to the Palestinians. Mr Abbas is running out of time.

    Last updated: 9:45am, September 1 2010