Tags: israel palestine peace

Israel, Palestinians Trade Blame Over Halt in Talks

Wednesday, 08 Dec 2010 08:53 AM


Israelis and Palestinians accused each other of undermining peace talks after a U.S. official said the Obama administration was abandoning attempts to press for an Israeli settlement freeze as a way of advancing negotiations.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “succeeded in torpedoing the peace talks.” Israeli Cabinet Secretary Tzvi Hauser said on Israel Radio that “the Palestinians need to understand, as the Americans do, that it is unacceptable for either side to set pre-conditions.”

The talks, launched Sept. 1, stalled about four weeks later when a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction expired and Netanyahu refused to extend it. Abbas said Palestinians wouldn’t continue the dialogue unless building was halted. The U.S. will stop pressing Israel for another freeze and look at other ways to push the peace process forward, the U.S. official said in Washington yesterday.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may outline a new U.S. strategy on Middle East talks in a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington on Dec. 10.

The U.S. had offered Israel 20 additional F-35 fighter jets and said it would oppose any attempt by international bodies to impose a peace deal if Israel agreed again to a partial freeze.

Netanyahu had said he would take the U.S. offer to a vote at his security cabinet once he had received it in writing.

‘Fish to Fry’

“Obama’s got bigger fish to fry and he doesn’t see movement on either side for now so he’s going to wait,” said Mark Heller, principal research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. “Ultimately his attention will be redirected to trying to resolve the Mideast conflict because that’s what always happens. Some kind of crisis is inevitable.”

Erakat called the U.S. decision a “major setback for stability in the region.”

“We had hoped the American administration would hold Israel accountable,” he said in a phone interview from the West Bank town of Jericho.

Netanyahu “remains determined to continue the efforts to achieve a historic peace agreement with the Palestinians,” spokesman Mark Regev said in a phone interview from Jerusalem. “We believe that it is indeed possible to see the Palestinians achieve sovereignty while protecting Israel’s most vital national and security interests.”

When he opened the talks in Washington three months ago, President Barack Obama told Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that they have “a moment of opportunity that must be seized” and called for the two to resolve their dispute within a year.

New Approach

A new U.S. approach could lead to a return to the shuttle diplomacy mediated by the U.S. Middle East special envoy, George Mitchell, said Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

“This is obviously not what the administration wanted,” he said in an interview. Still, indirect talks on borders and security issues may be able to “generate a face-saving measure and find some other way to get the parties back to the table,” he said.

Before talks broke down over settlements, the two sides had agreed to pursue a framework for a comprehensive peace accord within a year, addressing issues at the heart of the conflict including the borders of a Palestinian state, security arrangements for Israel, the status of Jerusalem and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Statehood

Palestinians may seek recognition of a state as the alternative to talks with Israel. Erakat said last month that the Palestinian Authority would pursue a bid for recognition at the United Nations Security Council if talks broke down.

Brazil and Argentina announced this month that they would recognize a Palestinian state with pre-1967 borders, and Uruguay pledged to do the same next year. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley described Brazil’s move as “counterproductive.”

The Jerusalem Post yesterday quoted an unidentified U.S. official who briefed reporters as saying that peace efforts were going back to the drawing board, and that Israeli and Palestinian officials would visit Washington in the coming days.

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