Israel, PA spar ahead of next round of talks

Palestinians: Netanyahu trying to ‘thwart’ negotiations as Kerry visits region; PM says Palestinians knew Israel would build in settlements

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on November 3, 2013. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on November 3, 2013. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Palestinian Authority slammed the Israeli government late Sunday after the Housing and Construction Ministry announced that it would approve the sale of land for some 1,700 apartments over the Green Line, a move which came on the heels of a statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier in the day that Israel must keep a “security border” in the Jordan Valley in any final peace deal with the Palestinians.

The announcements were made ahead of a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry who is set to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials this week — a visit which coincides with the launch of the next round of talks between the two sides.

Israel’s control of the Jordan Valley, which runs north-south along Israel’s eastern side and part of which forms the border between the West Bank and Jordan, has been a key point of contention in the ongoing US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, told the Wafa news agency Sunday that Netanyahu’s decision to “build a wall in the Jordan Valley is only a pre-emptive step to thwart the upcoming visit of United States Secretary of State John Kerry to the region.”

Rudeineh slammed Israel’s recent announcements of settlement unit construction and said the Netanyahu government would be held responsible for the failure of negotiations.

“Both the illegal settlements and the wall will disappear inevitably. [There will be] no peace and stability in the region without a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital,” Rudeineh said.

“The US administration must send a clear message to Netanyahu to stop this nonsense,” he added.

Earlier Sunday, Netanyahu said Palestinian claims that settlements were an obstacle to peace were just an attempt to create an artificial conflict.

“The Palestinians knew we would build [in the settlements] during negotiations. It was made clear beforehand,” Netanyahu said at a Likud faction meeting Sunday. “There’s no reason for this crisis,” he added.

At the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu repeated his calls for the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel as the Jewish nation-state.

For peace to emerge between Israel and the Palestinians, “they must recognize the right of the Jewish people to its own state in its homeland,” Netanyahu said in the meeting, which commemorated the 96th anniversary of the issuing of the Balfour Declaration in 1917. “The refusal to recognize us is the root of the conflict,” he said at the weekly cabinet meeting.

“What this means,” the prime minister added, “is that [the Palestinians] must acknowledge, in the framework of a final settlement, the rescinding of their national demands — the right of return or any other national demand — from the State of Israel.”

On Saturday, the Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour, sent a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon saying Israel has proven time and time again, with announcements of new settlement unit construction, that its efforts for peace are insincere.

“Israel continues construction of its illegal settlements, including seizing and looting land, as well as forced displacement of Palestinian families, while building thousands of housing units,” he wrote in the letter.

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor dismissed international criticism of settler activity, saying “the real obstacle” to peace is the Palestinians’ insistence on the right of return for millions of Palestinians refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel.

Last week, reports that Israel approved 5,000 new housing units in Jerusalem and the West Bank, were said to have infuriated Palestinian negotiators, prompting rumors of the resignation of the negotiating team. The resignations were not reported in official Palestinian media, and were apparently withdrawn, reportedly after American intervention.

On Thursday evening, the PLO’s Executive Committee threatened to take “a number of steps” over the coming days to confront “the settlement onslaught” and prevent the political process from “becoming defunct and incapable of realizing its purpose,” official news agency WAFA reported.

That news came on the heels of the Israeli release of 26 Palestinian prisoners last Tuesday as part of an agreement with the Palestinian Authority to release a total of 104 prisoners who committed their crimes before the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords were signed. Tuesday’s release was the second of four, with the first batch being freed in August.

Under heavy US pressure, the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks resumed in July after five years amid deep skepticism and low expectations from both sides. The negotiations are taking place in secrecy and neither side has given details on their content.

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