Abbas: Middle East talks in crisis

Palestinian president urges EU to get involved after US fails to secure an Israeli freeze on settlement building.

The Palestinians say they will not negotiate while Jewish settlers build on land they want for a future state [Reuters]

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has said peace talks with Israel are in “crisis” after the US admitted defeat in its efforts to secure an Israeli freeze on settlement building, the Palestinians’ condition for resuming talks.

“There is no doubt that there is a crisis,” Abbas said on Wednesday, during a visit to Greece.

Abbas also said he hoped the European Union would get involved in relaunching the negotiations. “We hope that the time will soon come when the EU will play a role alongside the United States.”

The comments came after the White House and the state department admitted that they had failed to get Israel to renew a moratorium on Israeli building in the occupied territories.

Without a new freeze, the Palestinians have refused to negotiate, effectively deadlocking direct peace talks that opened on September 2 only to run aground just weeks later when building resumed in the settlements.

‘Change in tactics’

Philip Crowley, the state department spokesman, said Washington would explore other ways to bring the two sides together.

“We will have further conversations on the substance with the parties and will continue to try to find ways to create the kind of confidence that will eventually, we hope, allow them to engage directly,” Crowley said on Tuesday.

Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian legislative council, told Al Jazeera that the US decision meant the end of any peace talks.

“If the US, being the only country that is monopolising control of the talks, is failing to pressure Israel to abide by what was written in the road map and what the international community demands – which a complete freeze to settlement activities – then there is no peace process and the reason for this is Israel” he said.

“I don’t think there is any value to more talks in Washington. Now they are talking again about proximity talks, this is a funny thing after having direct talks.

Abbas said he hoped the European Union would get involved in relaunching peace negotiations [Reuters]

“It is like having an engagement party after the wedding. It doesn’t make sense.”

But a spokesman for Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said Washington’s announcement marked a welcome acknowledgement by the US government that freezing construction was not the way to achieve peace.

“We said from the outset that settlements were not the root of the conflict and that it was only a Palestinian excuse for refusing to talk,” Nir Hefetz said.

Crowley announced that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were expected to visit Washington next week for talks with the US administration on ways to keep the peace process alive.

Israeli media said George Mitchell, the US Middle East envoy, would meet separately with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat and his Israeli counterpart, Yitzhak Molho, in the coming days.

Crowley’s remarks suggest Palestinian-Israeli peace talks have returned to the point where they were in May when Mitchell began shuttling between the two sides in so-called “proximity,” or indirect negotiations.

Crowley said there “may well be a change in tactics” as the US still believes that there must “be some kind of direct negotiation” to make progress on the core issues.

Nabil Shaath, the head of Fatah’s foreign relations and a member of the negotiation steering committee, told Al Jazeera the peace process cannot be revived.

“It is a crisis, it is an impasse. There is no way this peace can be revived. Seduction with Netanyahu never works; you’ve got to tell him he ought to implement what he had agreed to before.”

‘End game’

Robert Serry, the UN special co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process, issued a statement on Wednesday saying the continuation of settlements is “causing a crisis of confidence”.

“I am concerned that Israel has not heeded the Quartet’s call to freeze settlement activity in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” he said.

The Quartet of Middle East mediators comprises the EU, the UN, the US and Russia.

“Settlements are contrary to the Roadmap and international law and their continuation is causing a crisis of confidence in the effort to bring about meaningful political negotiations,” Serry said.

“In light of the persistent deadlock on this issue, a strategy adjustment is essential. The international community needs to act in unison to promote a negotiated end-game for a two state solution.”

US also pledged to provide Israel with diplomatic support, including vetoing anti-Israel resolutions at the UN [AFP]

In Brussels, a European Union spokeswoman said the bloc regretted that Israel had “not been in a position to accept” an extension of the construction moratorium.

Maja Kocijancic said such settlements were “illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace”.

Ahmed Abul Gheit, the Egyptian foreign minister, urged the international community to call an “end game” in peace efforts and set clear deadlines for reaching an agreement.

Barack Obama, the US president, presided over the relaunch of direct negotiations in Washington in September, only to see them bog down within weeks when an Israeli settlement moratorium expired and the Palestinians withdrew from the talks.

Abbas is insisting not only on a settlement freeze in the West Bank, but also in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want for their future capital.

Netanyahu has offered to renew the freeze if the Palestinians recognised Israel as a Jewish state.

In an attempt to revive direct talks, the US had offered Israel a package of incentives including 20 F-35 fighter planes, worth three billion dollars, as well as diplomatic guarantees in return for a three-month building moratorium.

The package would also have allowed Israel to continue building in East Jerusalem, over the objections of the Palestinians.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since 1967, settling nearly 500,000 Jews in more than 100 settlements. These settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies


US offers incentives for a 90-day building freeze in West Bank, but the proposal does not include East Jerusalem.

17 Nov 2010
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