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Palestinians: Hopes in Obama 'Evaporated'

JERUSALEM —  The Palestinian president's political party says all hopes in the Obama administration have "evaporated," accusing the White House of caving in to pressure from the pro-Israel lobby and backing off a demand to freeze Jewish settlement.

Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Party also accused the U.S. of failing to set a clear agenda for a new round of Mideast peace talks, according to an internal memo obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday.

"All hopes placed in the new U.S. administration and President Obama have evaporated," the document said. Obama "couldn't withstand the pressure of the Zionist lobby, which led to a retreat from his previous positions on halting settlement construction and defining an agenda for the negotiations and peace."

The Palestinians initially greeted Obama's election with enthusiasm, welcoming his outreach to the Muslim world and hoping he would depart from what they viewed as the pro-Israel bias of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Obama raised Palestinian hopes further with his repeated calls for Israel to halt all construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — areas the Palestinians claim for a future state.

But in recent weeks, the U.S. appears to have softened its stance on settlements. Washington says it has not abandoned the objective of halting settlement construction, but U.S. officials have indicated they do not see this as a condition for resuming talks.

The memo comes at a time of turmoil within Fatah after Abbas quickly reversed a decision to suspend efforts to bring Israel before a U.N. war crimes tribunal in connection with the Gaza war.

The document, dated Oct. 12, was issued by Fatah's Office of Mobilization and Organization. The office is headed by the party's No. 2, Mohammed Ghneim.

It was not immediately clear whether the document reflects Abbas' views or whether it was leaked to pressure Obama to bear down harder on Israel. Abbas' aides had no comment and Ghneim could not immediately be reached for comment.

The U.S. Embassy in Israel did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

The document reiterated Fatah's demand for Israel to freeze settlement construction and agree to a clear agenda for peace talks before negotiations can resume.

The Palestinians want talks to resume from the point they broke down last year under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert. Netanyahu says he is not bound by any concessions Olmert may have made.

Obama personally intervened last month, when he summoned Abbas and Netanyahu to a three-way meeting in New York. But he failed to break the impasse.

The document echoes sentiments expressed by other Fatah officials. On Sunday, former Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan said the party "feels very disappointed and worried by the U.S. administration retreat."

The last round of Israel-Palestinian negotiations broke down late last year with no breakthroughs on the main issues dividing the two sides: final borders, the status of disputed Jerusalem and a solution for Palestinians who lost homes and other property in Israel after it achieved statehood in 1948.

The dispute over ongoing settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem has blocked all efforts to get the sides to talk, let alone solve the intractable conflict.

Netanyahu says some settlement construction must continue to accommodate growth of existing settler populations. He also says all of Jerusalem will remain in Israeli hands, although Israel's annexation of the eastern part of the city and its sensitive holy sites has never been internationally recognized.

The Fatah memo comes at a time when Abbas is under relentless criticism from the rival Hamas group, which rules Gaza. They accused him of betraying the Palestinian cause by suspending efforts to bring Israel before a U.N. war crimes tribunal over the winter offensive on Gaza. Abbas has since reversed himself, and the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, which commissioned the report, is expected to debate the findings on Thursday.

Firing back at his critics Tuesday, Abbas said the Hamas-run Gaza Strip has become an "emirate of darkness." He also accused Hamas fighters of fleeing during the fighting while they "left their people to be killed in Gaza."

Tuesday's speech was Abbas' harshest so far on his Hamas rivals.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called Abbas' speech "base and misguided."

Relations between Abbas's Fatah government in the West Bank and Hamas collapsed when Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007. The latest spat has dealt a new blow to reconciliation efforts between the factions.

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