Palestinians say no to talks unless Israel stops building
RAMALLAH, Dec 16: The Palestinians on Thursday said they would not hold any form of talks with Israel, in any format, without a complete halt to settlement activity.“There will not be any negotiations with Israel, in any form — direct, indirect or parallel — without an end to settlement,” said Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior member of the central committee of Fatah, the secular party of president Mahmud Abbas.
His remarks, made in a phone call from Cairo, came a day after diplomats from the Arab League ruled out a resumption of negotiations without a “serious offer” that would ensure their success.
Ahmad called on Washington to officially declare its definition of the Palestinian territories to include all the lands occupied by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war, including the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
And he urged the Obama administration to state its official position on security and borders.
“We are starting to find that the American position on these issues is confused,” he said.
Earlier this week, US Middle East envoy George Mitchell held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas to try to find a way to keep the sides engaged in the search for peace.
He proposed six weeks of “parallel” talks, in which negotiators would hold separate discussions with the Americans in a format that would not be classed as “negotiations,” a Palestinian official said on Wednesday.
In his talks with Abbas, Mitchell suggested that in the six weeks starting from Sunday, the two sides meet US officials to discuss security, border arrangements and any other issues raised by the parties.
“What is discussed with each side will not be divulged to the other, but the aim is for the US administration to form an idea of what the two parties want with a view to drawing up a strategy to relaunch direct negotiations at the time it deems appropriate.”
Asked whether Israel would consider such a parallel format, an Israeli official said they were “open” to the idea.
“We obviously prefer direct talks with the Palestinians, but because they are steadfast in their refusal to engage directly over the issues … that is something to which we are open,” he said.
The peace process was thrown into disarray last week after Washington acknowledged it had failed in to persuade Israel to renew restrictions on settlement construction. US efforts are now trying to find new ways of having both sides engage in some form of talks.
Following the Arab League meeting, Arab and Palestinian officials were likely to step up their efforts in the coming days to secure further recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, Ahmad said.
On Wednesday, Abbas held a phone conversation with Bolivian President Evo Morales, who confirmed La Paz would be recognising a Palestinian state “in the coming days”, the Fatah official said.
Over the past few weeks, Palestinian officials have been talking up their options if peace talks with Israel totally collapse — one of which is seeking recognition for a unilateral declaration of statehood.
Earlier this month, Brazil and Argentina recognised a Palestinian state, with Uruguay soon to follow suit. And this week, European Union also expressed “its readiness, when appropriate, to recognise a Palestinian state.” Israel opposes such a move, saying a Palestinian state should be established only through negotiations.
Shortly after the Cairo talks, the US House of Representatives approved a measure condemning any recognition of a Palestinian state, and backing a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The resolution, introduced by Democrat Howard Berman, reaffirms the “strong support” in the lower chamber of the US Congress “for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resulting in two states, a democratic, Jewish state of Israel and a viable, democratic Palestinian state.”—AFP