‘Unprecedented’ Israeli settlement expansion could sink Palestinian peace talksBy RT.com | Last updated: Aug 22, 2013 - 11:23:31 AM
“Settlement expansion goes against the U.S. administration’s pledges and threatens to cause the negotiations’ collapse,” Yasser Abed Rabbo told AFP.
Abed Rabbo’s comment comes shortly after Israel’s approval of over 2,000 new settlement units on land claimed by the Palestinians as part of their future state.
Earlier in the week, the Israeli government backed the construction of nearly 1,200 new apartments for Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. On Tuesday, Aug. 13 - just a day before the scheduled new round of face-to-face talks between Israelis and Palestinians – Jerusalem’s municipality approved the construction of 942 other settlement units on the lands occupied by Israelis since the 1967 Six-Day War.
“This settlement expansion is unprecedented,” Abed Rabbo stated, adding that “it threatens to make talks fail even before they’ve started.”
Another Palestinian official familiar with the negotiations labeled the decision to approve “such a massive number of housing units” days before the planned gathering “as sick’’. The unnamed source, who spoke earlier with The Christian Science Monitor, added that the Palestinians “may not come” to the talks.
The move was also criticized in Washington, the EU and the UN.
American Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday, Aug. 12 that the U.S. “views all of the settlements as illegitimate.” However, he urged the Palestinians “not to react adversely” to Israeli’s latest announcements. Kerry, who has played an active role in the resumption of the peace talks which broke down in 2010, called on the Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table as planned on Wednesday, Aug. 14 in Jerusalem.
Three years ago, it was the dispute over the settlement building in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem that derailed the last round of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks.
As key preconditions for the resumption of the face-to-face talks, the Palestinian leadership had demanded a halt to the settlement program and, also, the release of hundreds of inmates, many of whom have been in Israeli jails since before the 1993 Oslo Peace accords.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the full freeze. But after months of pressure from U.S. diplomacy, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas agreed to drop this as a condition for the resumption of peace talks, while Israel agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners serving long sentences.
On Monday, Aug. 12, Israel published the names of 26 Palestinian prisoners to be released this week as part of the U.S.-brokered deal. They are expected to be transferred into the Palestinian territory on Tuesday night.
The decision to free the prisoners is unpopular in the country, as many of them are considered terrorists in Israel. The announcement was followed by two days of protests by victims’ relatives outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. According to Haaretz, 21 in the group were convicted of killing Israelis or collaborating with Palestinian militants, while others were involved in attempted murder or kidnapping.
In their homeland, by contrast, the convicts are seen as heroes and their release scores political points to Abbas. However, the Palestinian leadership is reportedly not completely satisfied with the decision.
Abbas and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat were particularly angered by reports in the Israeli media that because of their perceived security risk, some of the prisoners released in the next three phases will be deported to the Gaza Strip or abroad and not allowed to return to their homes in the West Bank, Haaretz writes. The paper, citing senior Israeli and Palestinian officials, writes that the Palestinian leadership told the U.S. they would not agree to the deportation.
The direct Israeli-Palestinian talks are expected to start on Wednesday, with Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni meeting Palestinian Erekat in Jerusalem’s King David Hotel. The talks will be moderated by U.S. envoy Martin Indyk. (RT.com)
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