Israel, Palestinians spar over Quartet deadline

PA: Jan. 26 is deadline to present comprehensive border, security proposals; Israel maintains it has another 2 months.

PA Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
PA Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Jerusalem hopes the Palestinians are not looking for an excuse to leave direct negotiations just two weeks after they began, an Israeli government official said Sunday.
He was responding to a report in the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper asserting the Palestinians are considering ending the talks in Jordan and searching for alternatives.
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According to the report, the Palestinians were considering a number of different steps, including turning to the UN and asking it to demand an end to construction in the settlements.
Israeli envoy Yitzhak Molcho and chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat met Saturday night at the headquarters of the Jordanian General Intelligence Department in Amman for the third round of Jordanian- sponsored talks since January 3. For the first time, neither representatives of Jordan nor the Quartet – the US, EU, UN and Russia – participated in these talks.
Al-Hayat quoted a senior Palestinian official as saying there would be only one more meeting between the two sides, on January 25.
The official said the planned meeting would be decisive because it would determine whether the two parties would be able to move to direct negotiations or declare the failure of the Amman talks.
The Palestinians say January 26 is a deadline imposed by the Quartet on the two sides last September to present comprehensive proposals on border and security issues.
The Palestinians have already presented their proposals.
Israel, however, maintains January 26 is not a deadline, and the Quartet said in its September statement outlining a path to renewing the talks that the two sides needed to present their proposals 90 days after direct talks began.
“It is not logical to think that we could solve all these issues and present proposals 21 days after the talks began,” one Israeli government official said. The official said Israel was more than willing to present its proposals after 90 days, although he would not say whether this included a willingness to present the Palestinians a map of where precisely Israel wanted to draw the borders of a future Palestinian state.
One PA official in Ramallah said the US Administration and some EU governments were putting heavy pressure on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to continue the talks with Israel after January 26.
He said American and European government officials have told Abbas the Quartet deadline clock started only when the Israelis and Palestinians began their talks in Amman two weeks ago.
“Now they are telling us that the deadline expires in March.” he said.
But Abbas Zaki, a senior Fatah official, announced Sunday the Palestinians would not agree to hold further talks with Israel after January 26 “because the Israeli government is not serious about moving the peace process forward.”
Zaki claimed the Israeli government was afraid of achieving progress with the Palestinians because of upcoming elections in Israel.
Israel’s elections are not scheduled until late 2013, and despite a great deal of political maneuvering in recent weeks, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has not given any indication he intends on calling them early.
According to the Palestinian official quoted in Al- Hayat, Abbas is now in the process of seeking international assistance in exerting pressure on Israel to freeze construction in the settlements and east Jerusalem.
“Settlements will be at the core of the upcoming Palestinian diplomatic offensive because they undermine the foundations of the two-state solution,” the Palestinian official said.
Israeli officials said it was not clear whether the Palestinians, as they have threatened, would indeed return to efforts to seek statehood recognition at the UN, or take other unilateral steps in various international forums.
“The Palestinians have a history of brinkmanship,” one official said. “But I would remind you that if the Palestinians take unilateral steps, Israel has options on that track as well.”
Following the Palestinian success in gaining acceptance in UNESCO in October, Israel declared it was expediting the construction of 2,000 new units in east Jerusalem, Ma’ale Adumim and Gush Etzion, and cutting off the transfer of tax payments it collects on behalf of the PA.