Palestinian official says peace talks already failed

Fatah bigwig says if it weren’t for Palestinian prisoners to be released from Israeli jails, PA would have ended negotiations already

Ilan Ben Zion is an AFP reporter and a former news editor at The Times of Israel.

A senior Palestinian official said Friday that peace negotiations with Israel have already failed, and that the prospect of freeing Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails is all that’s keeping the talks alive.

Fatah Central Committee Member Nabil Shaath, a close adviser of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, told Maariv that “we are committed to negotiations for a nine-month period and are waiting until all 104 prisoners are released.”

Israel agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in four waves as precondition to the talks, which began in late July. Over the past five months, Israel has released two waves of 26 prisoners apiece to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The 21 men released to Ramallah last month were met with fanfare and celebration by thousands of Palestinians and Abbas.

According to Shaath, if it weren’t for the release of prisoners, which has been conducted in stages over the course of the negotiations, the Palestinians would have already terminated the talks and sought statehood recognition with UN bodies. He added that “the UN declaration of us as an observer state [in 2012] was in essence declaration of a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines.

“It gives us the direct right to be full members of international organizations, the International Criminal Court and UN organizations,” Shaath told the paper.

The Palestinian official remarked that the Palestinian Authority has refrained from abandoning the US-brokered peace talks and “breaking the dishes” because of the remaining Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons.

“But I don’t think there’s much more to be done with the present Israeli government’s policies,” he said. Another move such as approving 20,000 new settlement homes, he said, would be liable to force the Palestinians to end the talks.

Earlier this month, 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. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly ordered the tenders cancelled.

According to Housing Ministry statistics published Thursday, seven percent of new Israeli construction sites erected this year were located in the West Bank, and the number of building projects across the Green Line rose by nearly 130% compared to 2012.

Shaath has in the past expressed opposition to a two-state solution with Israel, calling an arrangement in which there is a Jewish state and Palestinian state existing side-by-side “unacceptable.”

“They can describe Israel itself as a state for two peoples, but we will be a state for one people. The story of “two states for two peoples” means that there will be a Jewish people over there and a Palestinian people here. We will never accept this – not as part of the French initiative and not as part of the American initiative,” he said in 2011.

Shaath’s latest remarks came a week ahead of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s planned return to the region to meet separately with Netanyahu and Abbas. During his last stay in Israel earlier in November, Kerry made pointed remarks to the Israeli press about the ongoing talks with the Palestinians.

“If we do not resolve the issues between Palestinians and Israelis, if we do not find a way to find peace, there will be an increasing isolation of Israel, there will be an increasing campaign of delegitimization of Israel that’s been taking place on an international basis,” he warned.

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