The top Palestinian negotiator with Israel on Monday threw his weight behind US Secretary of State John Kerry's bid to revive stalled peace talks, while describing the situation in the West Bank as apartheid worse than that suffered in South Africa.

Kerry is due to visit Jerusalem and Ramallah on Thursday and Friday.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told a UN committee in New York on Monday that a settlement freeze and the release of Palestinian prisoners were not conditions for returning to negotiations, but rather obligations that Israel must fulfill.

"We have no conditions to resume negotiations," Erekat told the committee on rights of the Palestinian people, which was created by the UN General Assembly in 1975.

"Make no mistake we are exerting every possible effort in order to see that Mr. Kerry succeeds. No one benefits more from the success of Secretary Kerry than Palestinians and no one loses more from his failure than Palestinians," Erekat said.

He said that in the past two months Kerry had met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas five times, Erekat three times and that the three spoke by phone almost weekly.

"Mr. Kerry is keeping things (close to) his chest. He likes to work very, very, very below the radar and grow things like mushrooms," Erekat said. "We did everything ... in order to enable him to succeed. He is not going to wait for years or months actually, he's working very hard."

"Today in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem ... I can sum up the situation with one word - apartheid. Worse than that which existed in South Africa," Erekat said. "Today Israel justifies its apartheid by the term security." Israel's UN mission was not immediately available for comment on Erekat's briefing to the UN committee.

Erekat said the Palestinians had finished preparation to join a raft of international bodies, such as the International Criminal Court, but would not act yet in order to give Kerry and President Barack Obama "a chance" to pursue Middle East peace.

"We want to give a chance to all nations who have a common denominator of achieving two states on the 1967 lines," Erekat said. "There is a chance, there is a good opportunity now." If the Palestinians were to join the ICC, they could file complaints with the court accusing Israel of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious crimes.

A PA official in Ramallah said Monday that the Palestinian Authority does not believe that Kerry will carry new ideas that will lead to the resumption of peace talks with Israel.

The official’s remark came shortly after Abbas met in his office with US Consul-General Michael Ratney and discussed with him Kerry’s efforts to revive the peace process.

This will be Kerry’s fourth visit since he accompanied US President Barack Obama to Israel in late March. “Our position regarding the resumption of the peace talks remains unchanged,” the official said. “We continue to insist on a full cessation of settlement construction and the release of Palestinian prisoners before the talks are resumed.”

According to the official, “there is good reason to believe that Israel has not accepted our position. This Israeli government is not interested in peace.”

One Israeli government official dismissed these comments as “cheap,” “superficial” and “not serious.”

The process with Kerry is ongoing, the Israeli official said. “There is a very serious effort going on to restart the talks,” he said. “We sincerely hope the effort will succeed, and we hope the Palestinians will be a partner in the process.”

According to the official, the Americans are working on a formula that will make possible the resumption of peace talks, and are working in parallel on a “political and economic framework.”

Kerry is expected to unveil the framework in early June.

“For years, the Palestinian side has been calling on the US to play a more active role, and to be more active in bringing the sides together to move the process forward,” the official said.

“Now that the Americans are actually doing that, surely they deserve better than these types of cheap comments.”

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