Top Palestinian negotiators: New settlements over Green Line aimed to sabotage talks

Saeb Erekat calls on PM to show "good faith" while Muammad Shtayyeh says negotiations a "smoke screen for more settlement construction" after Israel's announces tender to build 1,187 new homes over Green Line.

Israelis, Palestinians meeting for resumption of talks 521 (photo credit: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)
Israelis, Palestinians meeting for resumption of talks 521
(photo credit: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)
Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and senior Palestinian negotiator Muhammad Shtayyeh on Sunday said Israel's pending publication of 1,187 building tenders in east Jerusalem and West Bank settlements were aimed to sabotage the second round of peace talks scheduled for Wednesday in Jerusalem.
Speaking to Reuters at his office in the desert city of Jericho, near the border with Jordan, Erekat expressed optimism that renewed talks with Israel would continue but warned that Palestinian patience with the settlements was limited.
"Those who do these things are determined to undermine the peace negotiations, are determined to force people like us to leave the negotiating table," he said in an interview conducted before the latest Israeli announcement on settlement plans.
"If the Israeli government believes that every week they're going to cross a red line by settlement activity, if they go with this behavior, what they're advertising is the unsustainability of the negotiations," he added.
Shtayyeh, for his part, claimed the government is deliberately attempting to sabotage peace talks.
“It is clear that the Israeli government is deliberately attempting to sabotage US and International efforts to resume negotiations by approving more settlement units three days before the first Palestinian – Israeli meeting,” Shtayyeh said.
“Israel continues to use peace negotiations as a smoke screen for more settlement construction. The Israeli government is showing the world that the only way to achieve piece is justice, meaning end of Israel’s impunity.”
“Israel has been claiming that they want negotiations without ‘conditions,’ but on the ground is clear that they are the only ones imposing conditions: to negotiate with settlement construction, creating new conditions on the ground in order to pre-empt the result of any negotiations.”
“We call upon the United States and the rest of the international community to hold Israel accountable in order to give a chance for peace.”
After six rounds of shuttle diplomacy, US Secretary of State John Kerry coaxed Erekat and his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni into their first official talks in Washington last month after a three-year hiatus caused by disputes over settlements.
The settlers and the prime minister's right-wing base are reluctant to quit the land where they cite Biblical and historical roots, but Palestinians say the settlements end the last chance for a viable state of Palestine.
Erekat said that despite the new settlement plans, the Palestinian side was willing to negotiate with their Israeli counterparts for the full period agreed upon with Washington.
"We are determined to give this effort of six to nine months every chance it deserves ... it's time for the Israeli government to choose negotiations and show good faith," he said.
The talks have had a shaky start, as Erekat and Netanyahu both submitted letters to Kerry on Saturday complaining that the other side's actions harmed progress.Erekat cited settlements while Netanyahu accused the Palestinians of "incitement" and "hate education" after Mahmoud Abbas said last month that he wanted no Israeli soldiers or civilians to live in a future Palestine.
Erekat welcomed Israel's decision to release 104 Arab prisoners in four phases, with the first 26 expected to be freed on Tuesday.
But the move satisfies only one of the three prerequisites Palestinians had advocated to revive the talks during Kerry's six rounds of shuttle diplomacy in the region this year.
A full settlement freeze and an acknowledgment of the 1967 lines as the basis for future borders - the other two Palestinian demands - appear to have dropped from officials' public statements.
Israel has publicly ruled out any preliminary deals on borders and settlements, calling them preconditions on issues that must be agreed at the end, not the start, of negotiations.
Speaking to reporters in Cairo last month, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said talks would focus first on borders and security, which would appear to address their old demands.
"It's time for decisions, not negotiations," Erekat said, "and I hope Palestinians and Israelis will be able to make the decisions required to reach a comprehensive agreement on all core issues without exception, meaning Jerusalem, borders, settlements, refugees, water and security."