PA skeptical as 3rd round of Amman talks begin

Israeli and Palestinians set to meet in Amman for third round of exploratory talks; Erekat says talks should not continue past Quartet January 26 deadline if Israel doesn't accept PA's conditions.

PA Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
PA Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
The Jordanian-sponsored talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the third round of which resumed on Saturday evening in Amman, are unlikely to achieve a breakthrough by January 26, Palestinian officials said over the weekend.
“I don’t believe we can continue with the exploratory talks in Amman after January 26, the deadline set by the Quartet to both sides for achieving progress,” chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said.
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He was referring to a Quartet statement issued in September that gave the parties 90 days starting in late October to work toward narrowing the gaps between them and present their proposals on core issues like security and borders.
But the US on Thursday said that January 26, which marks the end of those 90 days, was not set in stone.
“We’re trying to encourage flexibility, creativity, real dialogue,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington. “Obviously, we want [direct negotiations] to happen as soon as possible. That was the point of putting dates on the table. But again, when dates become a straitjacket, it can take you backwards. We want to go forwards,” she said.
An Israeli official said that the Quartet timetable had been amended in a de facto fashion, because it called for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks in October, but in reality, such conversations had begun only two weeks ago in Amman. The three-month time-line started two weeks ago and should end in April, the official said.
In an interview with The Australian published on Saturday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the most important thing that came out of the Amman meetings was a commitment to “have continuing negotiations in order to achieve an agreement.”
He added, “We’re prepared to do that, the Palestinians aren’t. They keep piling on preconditions for the beginning of such negotiations. I think this is a mistake.”
Netanyahu illustrated this point, saying, “There’s a simple way to prove it. I’m willing to get in a car and travel the eight minutes, 10 minutes, from here to Ramallah and sit down to negotiations immediately with President Abbas. He is not prepared to do the same thing with me. This may not be the fashionable international perception, but sometimes it’s important to cut through the accepted perception and get to the truth.”
In Ramallah on Saturday, Erekat told reporters that the talks in Amman would not continue after January 26 unless Israel agreed to halt all settlement construction, including in Jerusalem, and accepted the two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 “borders.”
Israel has refused to accept this demand.
Erekat also emphasized the need for the release of Palestinians from Israeli prisons, especially those who were sentenced before the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO. He called for the release of prominent prisoners like Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Sa’dat, secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas, told the Palestinian Authority’s Al- Ayyam daily that the January 26 deadline was a “crossroads” for the peace process.
The Palestinians would have to consider their next steps if no progress is achieved by that date, he said. “We will have to take decisions,” Abu Rudaineh said without elaborating.
“The US administration must do its utmost to make the Israeli government stop settlement construction and accept a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders,” he added.
Abbas told Fatah officials last week that Israel has not presented anything new during the first two rounds of talks in the Jordanian capital.
After January 26 the Palestinians would file a complaint against Israel with the UN for “violating the Geneva Convention,” he said.
Abbas said there had been no basis for the resumption of the peace negotiations with Israel. However, he said that the current talks would continue until January 26.
Also on Saturday, scores of Palestinians demonstrated outside Abbas’s offices in Ramallah in protest against the ongoing talks in Amman.
The rally was held under the banner of “Palestinians for Dignity.”
The protesters said they were opposed to any negotiations with Israel while construction was continuing in the settlements.
They also demanded that the Palestinians stay away from the negotiating table until all Palestinians were released from Israeli prisons.
Some of the demonstrators accused the PA leadership of failing to fulfill their pledge not to return to the negotiating table until Israel froze all construction in the settlements and accepted the June 4, 1967, lines as the basis for a two-state solution.
One of the organizers of the protest, Eghsan Barghouti, said the PA leadership was undermining its own credibility by resuming the talks with Israel unconditionally.