Ahead of Kerry visit, Jerusalem and PA trade barbs on peace progress

Atmosphere of mini crisis in talks exists ahead of Kerry visit; US secretary of state denies US to put forth plan of its own.

Netanyahu at Likud meeting 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Netanyahu at Likud meeting 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Israel is not opposed in principle to an American bridging proposal aimed at overcoming an impasse in talks with the Palestinians if it ensures Israel’s security and a Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, government officials said Monday.
The comments came on the eve of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s expected arrival here on Tuesday evening amid an atmosphere of mini crisis in the talks.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Fatah leaders Monday that the negotiations have not borne any fruit, and warned that the talks may explode. He also said he would not agree to an Israeli security presence in the Jordan Valley, or recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in an interview with i24 news, referred to what he has called the “artificial crisis” created by the Palestinians as a result of Israel’s announcement of construction in east Jerusalem and the settlements following last week’s release of security prisoners.
“If they can’t even stand behind the agreements that we had, that we release prisoners but we continue building, then how can I see that they will actually stand by the larger issues that will require them far greater confrontation with received opinion and fixed positions in their society,” he said. “If you want to lead, stand up.”
Netanyahu’s spokesmen have said repeatedly in recent days that both the Palestinians and the Americans knew that the release of Palestinian prisoners, as was done last week, would be accompanied by announcements of building in east Jerusalem and the settlements.
Even Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, opposed to these announcements at the time, said categorically in an Israel Radio interview on Monday that these announcements were not in violation of any obligation Israel took upon itself when entering the talks with the Palestinians in late July.
Meanwhile, Meretz head Zehava Gal-On released a statement saying the Americans were moving from a status of mediator to that of full facilitator, and would put forward their own diplomatic plan in early 2014.
Ilan Baruch, Gal-On’s policy adviser, said this was the impression the two of them received from recent meetings with US, Palestinian and Egyptian officials. According to the statement, the US plan will include all the core issues and be based on the June 4, 1967, lines, with agreed-upon land swaps.
According to Gal-On, the Americans are convinced both Netanyahu and Abbas have the political capital needed to bring about an agreement.
The current skepticism on both sides, she said, would help the US intervene in the process when it hits a crisis point. She said a draft could be put forward in January, and that it would not be for an interim agreement, but rather for the gradual implementation of a comprehensive accord.
Kerry, meanwhile, denied the US was planning to put forward any plan of its own, saying during a press conference in Saudi Arabia that beyond the direct discussions and talks between the US, Israeli and Palestinian leaders, “there is no other plan at this point in time.”
Government officials said that while Netanyahu was not in principle opposed to a US plan, he “reserved the right to stand up for what he believes are Israel’s interests, and will not compromise on vital security and national interests.”
Meanwhile, Palestinian officials said on Monday that they did not expect Kerry to carry new ideas to achieve progress in the peace talks with Israel when he arrives. He is scheduled to meet with Netanyahu and Abbas separately on Wednesday.
Speaking on the eve of Kerry’s visit to the region, the officials said that the talks, which resumed three months ago, have not produced anything.
They said that Kerry’s main mission in the region was to make a last-minute attempt to prevent the collapse of the peace negotiations.
“We don’t believe that Kerry is carrying with him anything new,” said PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo. “All he will do is repeat previous promises.”
All indications point to continued deterioration, Abed Rabbo said.
“There has been no improvement in the situation,” he said, referring to the previous 14 rounds of talks. “All what is happening on the ground shows that, in reality, there is no real peace process. The Israelis have no intention to proceed with the political process.”
PA Foreign Minister Riad Malki also sounded a note of pessimism regarding the prospects of moving forward.
“So far, there are no positive signs from Israel,” Malki said during a meeting in Ramallah with Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov.
Malki accused the government of working toward thwarting international efforts to achieve peace with Palestinians by pushing settlement construction, “assassinations and house demolitions.”
The Palestinians, Malki stressed, remain committed to the peace talks with Israel on the basis of a two-state solution on the pre-1967 lines, with east Jerusalem as their capital. The Palestinians are also committed to the nine-month timetable set by the Americans for the peace talks, he added.
Mahmoud Aloul, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, repeated Palestinian threats to walk out of the peace talks “if nothing changes.”
Aloul told the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper that the PA leadership has decided to adopt a “tougher policy” to face Israeli “violations” of the peace process.
He said Abbas will make clear to Kerry that it would be impossible to continue with the negotiations “in wake of the Judaization of Jerusalem and house demolitions, as well as the increase in settlement construction and daily killings and arrests.”
Aloul announced that the PA leadership has not abandoned the option of pulling out of the peace talks in protest against Israeli policies and measures.
He expressed hope that the toughening of the PA leadership’s stance would prompt the US administration to exert pressure on Israel.
“Israel has so far not come forward with any positive initiative to achieve a solution, especially with regards to the issues of security and borders,” Aloul said.
Israel’s demand to retain control over the Jordan Valley means that the future independent Palestinian state would not have any borders with Jordan, he said.
The Palestinians want the US administration to hold Israel responsible for the failure of the peace talks, the Fatah official said.
“Kerry decided to visit the region after realizing how difficult the situation is and out of fear that the talks would collapse,” he said.
The meeting between Abbas and Kerry comes amid growing pressure on the PA president to pull out of the negotiations.
Tayseer Khaled, a senior PLO official, criticized the PA leadership for pursuing a “failed” approach in the talks with Israel.
He said that although the two sides have held 14 rounds of talks, “we still haven’t seen any positive development on the ground.”
Israel hasn’t and won’t present anything positive to help move the peace process forward, Khaled said.
“Israel is exploiting the negotiations to escalate its suffocation of the Palestinians and steal their rights,” he charged, calling on the PA leadership to immediately walk out of the talks.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine also appealed to the PA to halt the talks with Israel.
Kayed al-Ghul, a top PFLP official, accused the US administration of putting pressure on Abbas to continue with the “failed” talks that, he said, pose a grave danger to the Palestinian cause.
“The Palestinian Authority won’t gain anything from the talks with the occupation,” Ghul said.