As the nine-month period set for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks elapsed Tuesday, top Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat blamed Israel for the collapse of the negotiations, and urged the international community to pressure the Jewish state into making concessions.
He accused Israel of consolidating an “apartheid regime” and suggested it seeks to annex the West Bank, or parts of it.
Erekat also said the Palestinians have the right to unilaterally take steps toward statehood, for example by acceding to more international treaties, yet did not announce plans to do so in the coming days. He did not rule out that the negotiations could continue — if Israel respects its “commitments and obligations,” he said.
“Everything Israel did during the past nine months aimed at sabotaging Palestinian and international efforts to achieve the two-state solution,” Erekat said in a statement. “To build settlements in occupied land, kill Palestinians and demolish hundreds of Palestinian homes is certainly not the behavior of a government that wants to end occupation but of a government that wants to turn occupation into annexation.
“We believe that the international community must now do what is needed,” he continued, “in order to make clear to Israel that choosing settlements and apartheid over peace has a political, legal and economic cost.”
According to Erekat, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “never gave the negotiations a chance to succeed,” arguing that the talks failed because of ongoing Israeli settlement expansion and Israel’s failure to release a last group of Palestinian security prisoners, as agreed when talks commenced.
Israel delayed the release of the fourth batch of prisoners after the Palestinians refused to commit to extend the talks beyond the initial April 29 deadline, and over arguments as to the identity of those slated for release: While Palestinians have claimed that the US allowed for Israeli Arabs to be among the group, Israel denied that they were ever part of the agreement.
After Israel refused to release the prisoners at the end of last month, the peace talks entered a serious crisis, with the Palestinians applying for membership to 15 international treaties and conventions.
Jerusalem puts the blame for the collapse of peace talks squarely on the Palestinians, after Abbas’s Fatah last week surprisingly signed a reconciliation agreement with Hamas. The Israeli cabinet decided unanimously that it would not conduct peace negotiations with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for Israel’s destruction.
Netanyahu’s government “has used every possible tool in order to consolidate its apartheid regime,” said Erekat, a member of the executive council of the Palestine Liberation Organization. “There is no other word to define this system of segregation and discrimination that has been imposed on our occupied country by the State of Israel.”
According to a “special report” published Tuesday by the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department, Israel advanced the construction of housing units “for over 55,000 new settlers” over the last nine months. The six-page report listed a host of alleged Israeli “violations,” including the killings of 61 Palestinians and 675 incidents of “settler violence.”
“Without being held accountable by the US and the international community, Israel will continue to behave as a country above the law. For a just peace to prevail, impunity must be replaced with accountability,” the report concluded.
Erekat, too, called on the international community to pressure Israel through various avenues, and reaffirmed the Palestinians’ right to pursue an independent state through diplomatic means, such as by joining UN bodies. Still, he stopped short of announcing further concrete steps to do so.
Earlier on Tuesday, Abbas laid down three conditions to continue the peace talks: freezing Israeli settlements beyond the pre-1967 lines, an additional release of Palestinian prisoners and an immediate, serious discussion of future borders.