US Secretary of State John Kerry will visit next week for talks on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, even as senior Palestinian officials call for breaking off the talks due to Israel’s announcement of plans to build in Jerusalem and the settlement blocs.
PLO officials on Thursday called to halt the peace talks with Israel in response to continued settlement construction and Israeli “raids and assassinations” in the West Bank. The officials called for an “overall national strategic revolution” that would see Palestinians asking international agencies and the UN Security Council to take measures against Israel.
Meanwhile on Thursday night, reports surfaced that Saeb Erekat, the head of the PLO’s negotiating team, had submitted his resignation.
According to the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, Erekat sent PA President Mahmoud Abbas a letter in which he cited Israel’s lack of commitment to the peace process and continued construction beyond the Green Line as the reasons for his resignation.
The report was published as the PLO’s Executive Committee was convening in Ramallah for a session chaired by Abbas.
Top PLO official Wassel Abu Yousef, however, denied the reports of Erekat’s quitting.
At the end of the meeting, he said the subject of Erekat’s resigning was not even discussed during the committee’s session.
Israel on Wednesday gave final approval of plans to build some 1,500 housing units in Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the pre-1967 lines, as well as in communities in the large settlement blocs. It also announced preliminary plans for another 2,000 units in settlements beyond the blocs.
The US State Department, in a statement announcing Kerry’s visit to the region, said he will meet in Jerusalem and Bethlehem with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials to discuss “the ongoing final-status negotiations,” and that he will discuss Iran with Israeli officials.
Kerry will meet with PA president Abbas in Bethlehem on Wednesday, Israel Radio reported.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu related to both issues on Thursday evening during a ceremony in Jerusalem saluting the officers of the Yom Kippur War.
“Israel’s security border will remain the Jordan River,” Netanyahu said, referring to one of the major sticking points in the negotiations – whether the IDF will retain a presence along the river.
The prime minister said he learned three major lessons from the Yom Kippur War: not to underestimate the enemy, the importance of strategic depth, and that the IDF has to be ready at all times for all missions.
Regarding Iran, Netanyahu said if the pressure on Iran will continue, the Islamic Republic will dismantle its nuclear capabilities.
“But if the pressure is weakened, Iran will continue with its means toward nuclear weapons,” he said.
“In any event, the IDF needs to be prepared for every scenario, anywhere and anytime.
Forty years after the Yom Kippur War, the IDF is stronger than ever, and we have to ensure that it remains so.”
Kerry’s visit is part of a wider regional tour, with one stopover in Warsaw, that will take him to Riyadh, Amman, Abu Dhabi, Algiers and Rabat from November 3 to November 11.
Meanwhile, Israel’s announcements of construction plans brought a wave of condemnation from the European Union, the UN and Britain.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton issued a statement “deploring” the move, but made no mention of Israel’s release of 26 convicted Palestinian terrorists this week.
Hugh Robertson, the UK Middle East minister, did note the release of the convicted terrorists, saying he “warmly welcomed” the government’s “difficult and courageous decision.” He went on to blast Israel for the construction announcement, saying “The UK has consistently condemned settlements, which are illegal under international law, undermine trust and threaten the viability of the two-state solution.”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki issued a more mild condemnation, saying the US continued to oppose these types of actions.
Israeli officials said the US and Palestinians knew at the outset of the talks in July that Israel would announce settlement construction plans around the time of each of the four promised prisoner releases in order to deflate criticism of the releases from the right wing.
The Palestinians are equally aware that the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem beyond the pre-1967 lines, as well as the settlement blocs, will remain part of Israel under any agreement, as was indicated by the Palestinian minutes released two years ago by Al Jazeera in what was known as the Palileaks, the officials said.
Nevertheless, the Palestinian Authority announced on Thursday it was “seriously studying” filing an immediate complaint against Israel with international courts and forums in a bid to halt construction in West Bank settlements and east Jerusalem.
The PA Foreign Ministry said the complaint would be designed to “preserve peace and the negotiations” with Israel. The PA was seeking a condemnation of Israel for violating international law, the ministry said. It called on the international community, especially the US and UN, to do more than issue denunciations of Israel.
“Israel is seeking to destroy the two-state solution and undermine any effort to ensure the success of the peace negotiations,” the ministry said. “We call on the international community to take action and measures to put a decisive end to settlement and relate to it as a war crime.”
The PA called on Arabs and Muslims to take immediate action to stop the expansion of settlements in order to safeguard the two-state solution.
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said the recent decision to build housing was the “latest humiliation” of Kerry and the efforts of the US administration to revive the peace process.
“These dangerous [Israeli] policies could destroy the prospects for peace and instigate violence and extremism in the entire region,” Ashrawi said. “The Israeli occupation is exposing its real intentions of creating the Greater Israel instead of being committed to the two-state solution.”
PLO Executive Committee member Wasel Abu Yusef told the Ramallah-based Wattan TV station that there is no point in pursuing the peace talks while Israel is continuing with its policy of settlement and “Judaization” of Jerusalem.
Another committee member, Tayseer Khaled, called for a “clear position” by the Palestinian leadership toward the peace talks.
“We need to decide why are the peace talks continuing at a time when Netanyahu is undermining the two-state solution on the ground,” he said.
JPost.com staff contributed to this report.