Three days before the start of negotiations, and as Israel compiled a list of 26
Palestinian security prisoners to be released, Israel and the Palestinian
Authority spared Sunday over government plans to build 1,187 homes beyond the
PA officials accused Israel of deliberately trying to torpedo
the talks by issuing tenders for construction of 793 new homes in Gilo, Har Homa
and Pisgat Ze'ev in Jerusalem, and another 394 units in Ariel, Efrat, Ma'ale
Adumim and Betar Illit. But Israeli officials noted that the announcement came
on the day the government's ministerial committee went through the gut wrenching
process of selecting which 26 terrorists to be released as part of the renewed
"That decision, above all else, shows the seriousness
with which we approach the current peace efforts," a senior official in the
Prime Minister's Office said. "Saying that this construction negatively affects
the map of peace is simply not serious." Nevertheless, PA negotiator Mohamed
Shtayyeh, who is also a senior Fatah official, accused Israel of seeking to
sabotage the two-state solution by proceeding with the plans. He said this
proved that Israel was "not serious" about the negotiations, and urged the US to
work toward halting the plans.
US special envoy Martin Indyk met in
Ramallah Sunday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss
developments prior to the scheduled start of the talks Wednesday in Jerusalem. A
meeting Indyk scheduled for Monday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyhau was
cancelled because of the premier's emergency hernia operation. He did, however,
meet Sunday night with President Shimon Peres.
Even as Indyk was meeting
Abbas, PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said there was "no need for
negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians because the Israelis are
deliberately dealing one blow after the other to the international community and
the US Administration" She charged that Israel alone bore responsibility for
openly defying the the will of the international community and efforts to revive
the peace process.
Palestinian legislator and political activist Mustafa
Barghouti said that Israel was using the negotiations as a cover for pursuing
"expansionist settlement projects." Barghouti said that the Israeli government
was "in a race against time to impose facts on the ground and destroy the idea
of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its
capital." Netanyahu's spokesman Mark Regev dismissed the criticism, however.
"The construction decided upon today in Jerusalem and in the settlement blocs
are in areas that will remain part of Israel in any possible future peace
agreement. This in no way changes the final map of peace. It changes nothing,"
One government official said that it was unreasonable to say
that building in Jerusalem and in large settlements close to the Green Line –
areas that he said would clearly remain a part of Israel in any final status
accord – was preventing the peace process or blocking a two state
The official declined to answer whether the US or the
Palestinians had been informed in advance of the move, nor whether it was a
"price" paid to the Bayit Yehudi party to keep them in the coalition despite
their opposition to the prisoner release and a two state solution.
of the five ministers authorized by the cabinet two weeks ago to draw up the
list of prisoners to be released in four stages over the next nine months of
negotiations met late Sunday night to come up with the names. Once the names are
published, the public will have 48-hours to appeal the release. The prisoners
are expected to be released before Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and PLO
negotiator Saeb Erekat meet Wednesday in Jerusalem to begin talks.
meeting was chaired by Ya'alon (Likud), and also included Livni (Htnuah) and
Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid) a former head of the
Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet). Two other members of the committee were
absent: Netanyahu, because of his operation, and Public Security Minister
Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Israel Beytenu), who is abroad.
The ministers were
expected to publish the names close to midnight.
In a related
development, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said after meeting Livni
at the King David Hotel that negotiations were in the interest of the sides, the
region and the world. He said Germany would play a "constructive and supportive"
Livni, in remarks to the press, alluded to the issue of the new EU
settlement guidelines – an issue casting a cloud over EU-Israel relations –
saying that Israel's borders would be determined in negotiations with the
Palestinians, and not by the EU.
"Europe will not determine the border,"
she said. "I believe that once the negotiations begin, Europe will also
understand that unilateral steps are not effective. They should let us and the
Palestinians determine our borders, and not let the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
influence the relations between Israel and Europe." Livni took part in a meeting
chaired by Netanyahu on Thursday where it was decided that further
clarifications on the settlement guidelines issue would be sought from the EU
before deciding whether Israel would enter into negotiations with the EU over
the lucrative Horizon 2020 R&D program.
Israel wants to get the
political leadership in Europe to press EU bureaucrats in Brussels, who drew up
the guidelines, to moderate them. Those guidelines forbid any EU funds from
going to Israeli entities across the Green Line and call on Israel to sign a
"territorial clause" before entering into any future EU agreements that would
essentially renege any claim to east Jerusalem, the Golan Heights or the West
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