PA to US: Coerce settlement freeze

PA to US Coerce settlem

November 1, 2009 23:06
3 minute read.

Palestinian Authority officials on Sunday warned that Washington's failure to force Israel to halt all construction in the settlements would lead to an "explosion." The officials also criticized US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statements in Jerusalem in which she backed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's position on the issue of settlements, calling his moratorium on new construction "unprecedented." One official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post that the "mask has fallen off the face" of US President Barack Obama. The US, he said, has once again demonstrated that it's not an "honest broker" in Middle East because of its "bias" in favor of Israel. "If Clinton thinks that we are going to return to the negotiating table while the bulldozers are working in the settlements she's deluding herself," the PA official said. Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said that the region was on the verge of a volcanic eruption because of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's refusal to accept the Palestinians' demand to halt settlement construction. "The Israeli government's insistence on pursuing settlement construction places the peace process at risk," Abu Rudaineh said. "We are ready to resume the peace talks only after Israel stops all settlement construction." Abbas's Fatah faction and several PLO operatives on Sunday voiced full support for Abbas's stance on the settlements. Fatah spokesman Fahmi Za'areer said that Israel was insisting on pursuing settlement construction while talking about peace at the same time. This position, he said, would not lead to the resumption of peace talks. Za'areer also expressed Fatah's backing for Abbas in the face of increased US pressure to return to the negotiating table without preconditions. The Fatah Central Committee also hailed Abbas for resisting US pressure to resume the peace talks unconditionally. The committee accused the Netanyahu government of sabotaging efforts to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The committee also called on the US and other members of the Quartet to pressure Israel to stop all settlement construction. It said that Abbas was right in refusing to resume the peace talks before Israel stopped settlement activities, including construction of new Jewish homes in east Jerusalem. The committee expressed disappointment with the "shift" in US policy on the settlements and warned that it would undermine the credibility of the Obama administration. Abbas has also won the backing of other Palestinian factions. Bassam Salhi, secretary-general of the Palestinian Peoples Party, formerly the Communist Party, condemned the American position as "provocative" and "shameless." Instead pressuring the Palestinians, the US should be exerting pressure on Israel, Salhi said. "Israel is continuing to ignore all UN resolutions pertaining to the conflict," he added. In light of the "change" in the US policy toward the settlements, the Palestinian leadership should consider unilaterally declaring an independent Palestinian state in the areas captured by Israel in 1967, he said. In a joint press conference with the prime minister in the capital on Saturday night, Clinton said the US would not accept the Palestinians demand that Israel halt all settlement construction as a precondition to negotiations. She added that Netanyahu's moratorium on new construction in the settlements was unprecedented. Clinton spoke at the end of a one-day visit to Israel, in which she met with Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avidor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. US envoy George Mitchell was to stay in Israel through Monday to continue meeting with officials in hopes of finding a way to resume the stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks. Clinton has gone on to Morocco, where she plans to meet with Arab foreign ministers. Netanyahu has said that he was willing to talk with the Palestinians without any preconditions. At the start of Sunday's cabinet meeting, he said: "We are making a focused effort to resume the peace process." He added that his government has worked on this since it took office on March 31. Netanyahu repeated for the cabinet members a number of public comments he had made Saturday night with Clinton. He listed for them steps he had taken to improve life for the Palestinians, including steps to ease travel restrictions by removing road blocs and checkpoints in the West Bank. "The result is that there is an unprecedented [economic] boom" in the Palestinian territories, he said. At the same time that Israel was taking steps to create a conducive atmosphere for peace talks, the Palestinians have introduced new conditions for such talks, something that has not happened in the last 16 years, he said. "I think this reality is clear to everyone today," said Netanyahu. He added that he hoped that the Palestinians would drop their demand that Israel halt all settlement construction as a precondition to talks and that they would enter the diplomatic process. "The peace process is an Israeli interest as well as a Palestinian one," he said. "We are ready to start negotiations without delay."

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