US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his “disappointment” to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday over anti-Israeli rhetoric.
Kerry spoke during an evening meeting in Paris intended to discuss a framework for negotiations on the Israeli- Palestinian peace process.
Last week, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Xinhua, a state-run news organization in China, that Israel may initiate a military incursion in Gaza against Hamas to undermine Kerry’s efforts to forge peace.
Erekat had previously suggested that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wanted Abbas assassinated.
Israeli officials have denied and condemned the remarks, and the State Department on Wednesday expressed “concern over the recent comments.”
“Personal attacks are unhelpful,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said, responding to Erekat’s comments to the Chinese media outlet. “The secretary will make clear that these comments are disappointing.”
The meeting between Kerry and Abbas was attended by Erekat, Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh, and PLO ambassador to France Hayel Fahoum, the PA’s official news agency Wafa reported.
Kerry also met in Paris with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.
Kerry’s talks with the Palestinians and Jordanians focused on his efforts to achieve a framework agreement between the Palestinians and Israel, a PA official said.
Earlier, PA officials said they expected Kerry to present the PA leadership with an “amended formula” of the proposed framework agreement.
The officials said that Abbas had rejected the original framework agreement that included Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
Abbas rebuffed the part that calls for turning only parts of east Jerusalem into a capital of a Palestinian state, as well as the annexation of settlement blocs in the West Bank to Israel.
Abbas expressed opposition to Kerry’s proposal for a “symbolic” return of Palestinian refugees to their homes inside Israel, according to the officials.
Abbas, the officials said, continues to insist that any framework agreement call for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines with minor swaps of land.
In Israel, speculation ran high that Kerry’s framework would require Israel to freeze construction outside the settlement blocs.
The Prime Minister’s Office has for months consistently refused to comment on reports about what is and what is not on the negotiation table, either with the Palestinians or with the Americans.
They refused to comment again on Wednesday after Army Radio reported that such a freeze was in the works.
Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel was far less reticent, however, saying in an interview that “to the best of my knowledge” this is not on the agenda.
“There is no situation where the prime minister will issue a directive that no tenders can be issued outside the settlement blocs,” he said. “We are building. I want to be clear, we built, we are building and we will continue to build.” Ariel said that he has never spoken with Kerry, but would like to invite him to talk over humous in Ariel. He said that the previous construction freeze, taken in 2009, not only proved ineffective but “pushed the Palestinians up a tree” regarding their demands.
In July, when Kerry was working on an earlier framework to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, one idea presented was that Israel would freeze construction outside the blocs, rather than release 104 Palestinian security prisoners.
Abbas, according to Israeli officials, rejected that offer.
According to Wednesday’s radio report, Israel would “unofficially” freeze all construction in the isolated Jewish settlements that lie outside of the major population centers under Israeli control in the West Bank.
While an official freeze on construction would require a cabinet decision, an unofficial freeze could be implemented by placing bureaucratic obstacles to building plans or having the defense minister order the Civil Administration for Judea and Samaria, which is charged with approving construction plans in the territories, cease deliberating on such plans. In addition, the interior minister could instruct the Jerusalem Building and Planning Council to halt all plans in sensitive areas of the city and the prime minister could order the housing minister to cease publishing construction tenders.
An unofficial freeze would enable government officials to deny its existence while in practice halting all construction, Army Radio reported.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is heading Israel’s negotiating team, has spoken out for months against continued building in the isolated settlements, saying it is difficult to convince the world that you are serious about peace when you continue building in areas unlikely to remain a part of Israel in a peace agreement.