Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held a meeting last week amid reports that the talks were headed for a breakdown, the Times of Israel has learned, despite increased tensions recently on the eve of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s return visit to the region this week.
The most current tensions revolve around the tenders published last month — and promptly cancelled by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — for the planning of some 20,000 units in the West Bank, an unprecedented number, including 1,200 units in the controversial E1 corridor linking Jerusalem with Ma’aleh Adumim. On Sunday, Palestinian Authority sources said that the Palestinians were considering ending peace talks with Israel over the announcement.
The Palestinians claim that although the plans were cancelled by Netanyahu, the tenders still appeared on the website of the Housing and Construction Ministry headed by Uri Ariel (Jewish Home), proving, according to the Palestinians, that Israel intends to implement the plans. Officials in Jerusalem rejected the charges, accusing the Palestinian Authority of “looking for excuses to stop the negotiations.”
A senior Israeli political source stressed that Netanyahu’s cancellation of the building plan was in effect.
Before Kerry’s last trip to the region in early November, the talks had also suffered a crisis. Israel charged then that the Palestinians were created an artificial crisis for the secretary of state’s sake, in hopes of getting him to up the pressure on the Israeli side.
The Palestinians shot back that Israel was avoiding presenting detailed stances on issues, and was thwarting progress in talks by opting to remain vague and non-committal .
Despite these setbacks, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made clear on several occasions that the Palestinians were going to honor their commitments to the US government, vowing that the peace talks with Israel would run their full, nine-month course.
Abbas refused to accept the resignation letters tendered to him by members of his negotiating team, Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Shtayyeh. Since those letters were submitted a month ago, several rounds of talks have been held, including the one last week. The two were present at most of the meetings except the last one, to which Erekat arrived without Shtayyeh.
Before and after the meeting, Erekat slammed Israel in the media, while denying that talks were taking place.
On Monday, Erekat told the Times of Israel that he was not present at the meeting last week with the Israeli negotiating team.
Under heavy US pressure, peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians resumed in July after a three-year hiatus. Although they have continued out of the media spotlight, reports have mounted that the two sides have reached an impasse.