Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas headed for Europe on Monday on a mission to increase international pressure on Israel to halt settlement construction.
Abbas’s trip is planned to take him to Germany, Italy and Belgium, where he will meet with heads of state and push for them to ratchet up pressure on Israel to impose a building freeze in the West Bank, Maariv reported Monday, citing the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency.
The trip comes almost three months into renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Only US Secretary of State John Kerry is authorized to report on progress at the negotiations, but insiders have been quoted repeatedly in Israeli and Palestinian media as saying that little headway is being made, no breakthrough appears imminent, and each side is blaming the other for the impasses.
The talks have come under scrutiny from both sides recently, with some Palestinians officials publicly branding them as fruitless and some Israeli politicians calling to suspend them in the wake of a series of terror attacks in the West Bank over the last month.
A building freeze had been one of the central Palestinian demands before coming to the table, but the PA agreed to start talks last summer after Israel pledged to free a group of long-held prisoners.
Sources in the PA told Maariv that Abbas set up the European trip in response to the Israeli calls to cut off the US-brokered peace talks and rethink the prisoner releases. A quarter of the agreed total of prisoners have so far been freed.
“[Abbas] and the Palestinian leadership hear the opinions in Israel that are talking about the possibility of freezing the talks because of recent events, and they are already preparing an alternative plan — appealing to the United Nations institutes with the goal of winning international recognition for Palestinian state,” the paper quoted an unnamed source saying.
On Thursday, Abbas told Palestinian TV that he was considering an appeal to the United Nations Security Council over what he termed as Israel’s continuous violation of Palestinian property as well as ongoing settler violence in the West Bank.
Part of the deal to open peace talks was a commitment by Ramallah to refrain from turning to international bodies against Israel while they are ongoing.
Abbas is, however, determined to continue talks with Israel, although he will tell the European leaders there has been no significant progress so far, Maariv reported.
The source also told Maariv that Abbas was going to Europe to ask for financial aid amid a fiscal crisis in the PA.
Last week Minister of Housing and Construction Uri Ariel and other politicians called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop Palestinian prisoner releases and rethink peace talks with the Palestinians in the wake of the murder of Seraiah Ofer, 61, who was beaten to death by men wielding metal bars and axes outside his home in the Brosh Habika vacation village on the edge of the West Bank.
The murder came on the heels of a shooting of Noam Glick, a 9-year-old girl, in the Psagot settlement outside Ramallah on October 5. Glick was lightly injured in the attack. These attacks followed the killings of two soldiers in separate West Bank incidents.
“Again Palestinians are translating our desire for peace as weakness and are answering with murder,” Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin of the Likud party said Friday morning.
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon told Israel Radio he blamed Ofer’s attack on Palestinian incitement, and called on the government to reconsider peace talks and the freeing of prisoners.
Israel agreed in July to a four-stage release of 104 prisoners serving sentences for acts of terror committed before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. The agreement was intended as a sign of good faith ahead of the renewed American-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The first group of prisoners was released in August, just after talks between the two sides restarted.