Even with Syria on world’s mind, Israel-Palestinian talks continue apace

Palestinian official says PA threatened to pull out of the negotiations because of Israel’s refusal to halt settlement construction.

Livni and Erekat 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
Livni and Erekat 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
With all eyes focused on Syria and how the US will respond to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s apparent use of chemical weapons, Israeli and Palestinian representatives are expected to meet Tuesday for the sixth round of talks since negotiations were restarted at the end of July in Washington.
Tuesday’s session between Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat will be the second time the two have met this week.
The talks are under a complete media blackout, with the Israeli side not saying where or when they will take place, or even confirming their existence.
All information and media exposure, officials have said consistently since the talks began, will only make them more difficult.
On Sunday the State Department issued a laconic statement saying only that Israeli and Palestinian delegations “have been meeting continuously since final status negotiations resumed” at the end of July.
“The negotiations have been serious, and US special envoy Martin Indyk and his team have been fully briefed on the bilateral talks and also participated in a bilateral negotiating session,” the State Department’s Jen Psaki said. Her statement contradicts various reports that Indyk has not played an active or direct part so far in the talks.
Meanwhile, a Palestinian official in Ramallah said Monday that the PA has threatened to pull out of the talks because of Israel’s refusal to halt settlement construction.
The official was quoted by the Quds Net News Agency as saying the Palestinian negotiating team had “expressed resentment over Israeli procrastination in replying to queries regarding settlement activities.” He said the negotiators had demanded an end to settlement construction to prevent the failure of the current negotiations.
“The Palestinian threat has reached the US administration, which has yet to reply,” the official said. “The Palestinians expressed in their message their rejection of Israel’s policy to create new facts on the ground.”
Israeli officials say the Palestinians knew going into negotiations that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had made no commitment to halt settlement construction during the talks. This was confirmed publicly last month by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Kerry and Netanyahu were tentatively scheduled to meet in Italy next week, but now it appears that because of the Syrian situation neither will be traveling to Rome.
The Palestinian official also said the PA held Israel responsible for the “assassination” last week of three residents of the Kalandiya refugee camp near Jerusalem. The men were killed during an IDF military operation to arrest a wanted Palestinian.
In their message to the Obama administration, the Palestinians said they should not be held responsible for the failure of the talks if Israel continued with its current policies, the official said.
Meanwhile, PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday night vowed to put to a referendum any agreement he reaches with Israel.
Abbas, who was speaking at the opening of a meeting of the Fatah Revolutionary Council in Ramallah, said Palestinians everywhere would be asked to approve an agreement with Israel through the referendum.
“If there is any development and an agreement, it is known that we will go to a referendum,” Abbas said. “It won’t be enough to have the approval of the Fatah Central Committee or the PLO Executive Council for an agreement.
Rather, we would go to a referendum everywhere because the agreement represents Palestinians everywhere.”
Referring to the current peace talks, Abbas said that so far the two sides had only presented their views.
“We will wait for a period of six to nine months,” he said.
Abbas said he agreed to postpone efforts to seek full United Nations membership of a Palestinian state in return for the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
“I consider the issue of the UN to be very important, but the case of the prisoners is worthy of sacrifice,” he added. “We have prepared 63 requests to join 63 UN agencies and conventions, but I said the issue of the prisoners is now more significant.”
Abbas reassured the Fatah leaders that he would not make any concessions during the negotiations with Israel.
“Our positions are the same as previous ones,” he explained. “This means Jerusalem is at the top of our list of priorities. A Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital. Without that there will be no solution. There will be no state without Jerusalem, which is a redline for us.”
Abbas defended Palestinian officials who held a series of meetings recently with Israelis, saying it had been a way of attempting to impact Israeli public opinion. He said that Palestinians who met with Israelis were not “traitors.”
Abbas added that he was under pressure from the US and Israel not to achieve unity with Hamas. He also accused Hamas of meddling in Egypt’s internal affairs.
Abbas also voiced opposition to a military strike against Syria.
“We don’t accept striking an Arab country from outside,” he said. “But we also condemn whoever used chemical weapons and demand a peaceful solution.”