PA hails EU decision on W. Bank, e. J'lem as Kerry returns to Amman

Palestinians pleased with EU decision on West Bank settlements; State Department official suggests secretary may focus on Syria.

kerry steps off plane 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
kerry steps off plane 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As US Secretary of State John Kerry returns to the region for another round of shuttle diplomacy, the Palestinian Authority on Tuesday hailed the European Union’s decision not to include the West Bank in agreements with Israel, calling it a preface for “halting settlement construction and ending occupation.”
The Palestinian body also called on the international community to take more steps to “stop Israeli violations and remove obstacles obstructing efforts to revive the peace process.”
The PA went on to reiterate its demands for a full cessation of settlement construction and the release of Palestinian prisoners as a precondition for resuming peace talks with Israel.
Mohamed Shtayyeh, a member of the PA negotiating team with Israel, welcomed the move, and said that the EU should take additional steps to exert pressure on Israel so that the peace process would be revived. He explained that the new measures should include a comprehensive boycott of settlement products and changing the way EU embassies deal with settlers – a hint that those living beyond the green line should be subjected to travel restrictions.
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi, said that the EU statement “constitutes a significant development in the way the EU countries deal with Israeli occupation.”
Ashrawi said that the statement would have a positive impact on peace prospects and should be seen in the context of these countries’ refusal to recognize the “legitimacy of occupation and settlements.” She said that the Israeli government, more than previous ones, has been committed to increasing settlement construction “at the cost of peace.”
The PA’s comments come ahead of a scheduled meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Kerry in Amman on Tuesday.
Kerry returned to the Middle East on Monday to brief Arab League officials on his progress with encouraging Israeli and Palestinian leaders to restart the peace process.
He is also expected to meet with Jordan’s King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.
Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said, “[Abbas] is making every possible effort to ensure the success of Kerry’s efforts.”
Erekat blamed Israel for hindering Kerry’s efforts by pursuing construction in the settlements and refusing to release Palestinian prisoners.
“Israel’s continuation of settlement activities, creation of facts on the ground, refusal to release prisoners, house demolitions, displacing people and failure to abide by signed agreements are the major obstacle to the efforts made by Kerry,” Erekat charged.
Shtayyeh said that the Palestinians welcome Kerry’s efforts and want to see his mission succeed.
Shtayyeh too accused Israel of hindering Kerry’s mission by refusing to halt settlement construction and accept the pre-1967 lines as the basis for a two-state solution.
He claimed that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was not sincere about reaching a two-state solution.
“We have told Kerry that we will return to the negotiating table when Israel proves that it is serious about stopping settlement construction and releasing prisoners,” Shtayyeh said. “The goal of the negotiation should be to end the occupation that began in 1967 and establish an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.”
He added that the prisoners issue was at the top of the PA leadership’s agenda, especially those who were imprisoned before the signing of the Oslo Accords nearly two decades ago.
In Amman, Kerry will also raise US concerns over spillover from Syria’s protracted civil war.
A senior State Department official, speaking to the press, suggested the secretary will likely focus on Syria in meetings with Jordanian leadership “because the Syrian Opposition Coalition elections just took place and there’s a new Syrian opposition leadership.”
Nevertheless, US officials insist that Kerry remains undeterred from his mission of restarting peace talks, ready to brief the Arab League officials with a substantive progress report.
The State Department responded on Monday to comments that PLO Ambassador Maen Areikat made to The Jerusalem Post earlier in the day that Palestinians, Israelis and Americans alike were awaiting “concrete results” from Kerry’s efforts on Middle East peace.
“We have not reached the point where we can say that we, the Palestinians, are satisfied with the progress of these discussions,” Areikat said.
However, a State Department official told the Post that Kerry “would not be going to Amman if he didn’t think he could make progress.”
The official added, “We have been clear all along what our goal is: to bring the parties back to the negotiating table. That is unchanged.”