US, EU officials in Israel work to stop Palestinian UN move

German FM says "Unilateral steps are counterproductive, we ask everyone not to go on this path"; source close to Netanyahu: Stopping Hamas-Fatah unity deal key to resuming talks; PM set to defend policies in Knesset.

By T. LAZAROFF, G. HOFFMAN, H. LEILA KREIGER
June 15, 2011 01:27
3 minute read.
German FM Guido Westerwelle and PM Netanyahu.

westerwelle and netanyahu_311. (photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO)

American and European officials were in Israel on Tuesday in a strong push to jumpstart the stalled peace process and thereby prevent Palestinian unilateral statehood at the United Nations in September.

“We want to use the next weeks and the next months to prevent such a difficult situation in the United Nations. This is our goal and this is what we work for,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said.

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He spoke at a joint press conference in Jerusalem with his counterpart Avidgor Lieberman, after meeting together. Earlier he met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and he met with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah. Westerwelle also held a phone conversation with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

“We do not support unilateral steps. We think unilateral steps would be counter-productive so we ask everyone not to go on this path. We think unilateral steps are not helpful,” said Westerwelle.

He added that such moves do not improve regional security and imperil the peace process. “We want a two-state solution, but it has to come from direct negotiations,” he said.

Separately, acting US Middle East envoy David Hale and Dennis Ross, a top White House advisor on the Middle East arrived in Israel Tuesday, and according to the Israeli media already held talks with Israeli interlocutor Yitzhak Molcho and Netanyahu’s advisor Ron Dermer.

The US officials are looking to move the negotiating process forward. Hale will continue on to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his aide, Saeb Erekat, later in the week.

The effort is aimed at “getting everyone back to the negotiating table,” according to a US State Department official.

The trip is seen as building on the meetings Hale held with Erekat and Molcho in Washington last week. The US is eager to jumpstart a stalled negotiating process as the Palestinians make plans to approach the UN for a unilateral declaration of statehood in September.

The Europeans have also looked to take more aggressive actions to give momentum to negotiations as an alternative to the Palestinians going to the UN. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton recently sent US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other principles of the Quartet – the US, EU, UN and Russia – a letter calling for a strong international push for relaunching talks this summer.

But the State Department official said that the US is focused on Hale’s efforts to move the parties forward.

“We have our special representative and his job is to push the negotiations forward and that’s why he’s having his meetings with the parties in the region,” as well as in Washington, the official said.

An Israeli official said that “we are working closely with the Americans, as we are with others to see if it is possible to find a formula that will put September behind us.”

According to a source close to Netanyahu, the prime minister told Westerwelle that stopping the Hamas- Fatah unity deal was key to restarting negotiations.

But Palestinians have insisted that they will not talk with Israel unless it halts all construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, a demand that Netanyahu has refused to cede to.

He has similarly rejected a call from US President Barack Obama to start negotiations based on the pre-1967 lines with some land swaps.

At the request of the 40 opposition parliamentarians Netanyahu is expected to defend his policies in the Knesset Wednesday.

At Tuesday’s press conference with Westerwelle, Lieberman defended Netanyahu’s stance.

“The final borders must be the result of the negotiation process. It is unacceptable for us to agree to the [pre-] ’67 lines without any negotiation, without any talks,” he said.

Israel has many questions regarding the issue of Palestinian refugees and Palestinian recognition of Israel as the national homeland for the Jewish people, he said.

“Regarding the settlements I am not sure that in my understanding that the settlements are an obstacle to peace,” he said.

He added that peace agreements were signed with Egypt and Jordan despite settlement construction.

Israel demolished 25 settlements in 2005 and that act did not bring peace, Lieberman said.


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