PA negotiators resign over West Bank construction

PA negotiators resign over West Bank construction

Abbas says he believes peace talks will continue despite upheaval, considers appointing new team; Steinitz promises settlement construction to go on cautiously

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas, September 1, 2013 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas, September 1, 2013 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

The Palestinian negotiation team has resigned in response to the Israeli government’s West Bank policies, specifically regarding recent announcements on renewed settlement construction, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday.

In an interview with Egyptian television station CBC, Abbas said that despite the resignation, he believed talks would not break down and added that he would consider naming a new team, Reuters reported.

“Either we can convince [the negotiating team] to return, and we’re trying with them, or we form a new delegation,” Abbas said. In a statement to Reuters, Palestinian head negotiator Saeb Erekat said that talks with Israel had been frozen for the time being.

“In reality, the negotiations stopped last week in light of the settlement announcements,” he said.

Earlier Wednesday, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said that construction in West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem will go on, albeit cautiously, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) to pull back the tenders for the construction of 20,000 new housing units in settlements.

Speaking on Israel Radio Wednesday, Steinitz said building would go on, but at “such a sensitive juncture,” it would have to be carefully coordinated with Netanyahu.

The strategic affairs minister added that a balance must be sought between Israel’s need to act assertively in the international arena and its wish to retain its influence on world powers, particularly on the Iranian nuclear issue.

On Tuesday, the Housing Ministry published tenders for the planning of some 20,000 settlement apartments — an unprecedented number — including 1,200 units in the controversial E1 corridor linking Jerusalem with Ma’ale Adumim to the east, the settlement watchdog Peace Now announced on Tuesday.

Soon after the report broke, Netanyahu canceled the tender for E1. And later Tuesday, Netanyahu ordered all the plans pulled back, saying the move to push forward tens of thousands of new units over the Green Line was a “meaningless step” that would create pointless tension with the international community.

Shortly after the publication of the tenders, Erekat said he had called the United States, Russia, the European Union, the United Nations and the Arab League to voice his protest.

“I informed them that if Israel implements this decision, then this means the end of the negotiations and the end of the peace process,” he said.

Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry launched an unusually bitter public attack on Israeli policies in the West Bank, and warned that if current peace talks fail, Israel could see a third intifada amid growing international isolation. He also said that calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions would increase in such a case.

It wouldn’t be the first time Palestinian negotiators have announced that they were stepping down over Israeli policies. Two weeks ago, Erekat and a second negotiator, Mohammed Ishtayeh, tendered their resignation to Abbas, following Israel’s announcement that it intends to demolish 20 Arab-owned buildings in east Jerusalem.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

read more: