Qurei: No room for Jews in the West Bank

PA negotiator: Israel willing to take in 5,000 refugees; UNSC nears first Mideast plan in 5 years.

qurei 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
qurei 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
There will be no room for Jews or settlements in the West Bank because their presence there will always be an obstacle to peace with Israel, Ahmed Qurei, head of the Palestinian Authority negotiating team, said at the weekend. Qurei, who was speaking to Palestinian reporters at his home in the village of Abu Dis, said that the peace talks have been suspended because of the upcoming elections in Israel, adding that the gap between the two sides remained as wide as ever. Qurei said that the major difference centered on the status of the settlements in the West Bank. "Initially, Israel sought to annex 7.3 percent of the West Bank," he disclosed. "Then it went down to 6.8%. Of course we completely rejected this idea." Qurei said that by annexing settlement blocs, Israel would have been allowed to keep the important areas in the West Bank, rendering it impossible to establish a Palestinian state with territorial continuity. The areas which Israel seeks to retain control over in a final agreement with the Palestinians are Ariel, Givat Ze'ev, Maaleh Adumim and Gush Etzion, he added. "These settlement blocs constitute an obstacle to any future peace agreement," Qurei stressed. "There can be no peace with the presence of these settlement blocs in the West Bank. "Our experiences have taught us that it's impossible to coexist with these settlers. We still remember the [Tomb of the Patriarchs] massacre in Hebron in 1994 and the daily attacks carried out by settlers in Hebron, Nablus, Kalkilya and other places. "All these attacks prove that the settlers are dangerous and that it's impossible to live with them. If these settlers are allowed to stay, that would mean more friction and confrontation. Peace can be achieved only if Israel withdraws to the last centimeter of the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967," Qurei said. There was no official Israeli response to Qurei's comments, but a senior diplomatic source in Jerusalem stressed that what the Palestinian chief negotiator said "was not entirely accurate." Israeli representatives have refused to reveal details on the negotiations that have taken place since the Annapolis process was launched last year, and are reluctant even to respond to Palestinian claims of what was discussed. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said settlement blocs are a legitimate Israeli demand and that Gush Etzion, Maaleh Adumim, Givat Ze'ev and Ariel-Kedumim should be part of Israel under a permanent peace agreement. Speaking over the weekend, Barak said, "if and when there is a peace agreement, if it is in five months, or five years, or 15 years, we will need a magnifying glass to spot the differences between the agreement and what was on the table at Camp David." The chief Palestinian negotiator also said Israel agreed to take in 5,000 Palestinian refugees over a five-year period, but this was rejected by the Palestinians. Qurei said he had not heard from Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni about the Israeli government's final position regarding the future status of Jerusalem, "apparently due to internal Israeli issues." The issue of Jerusalem, he said, was not discussed at all because of its complexity. "Every day Israel is creating new facts on the ground that further complicate the issue of Jerusalem," Qurei, a former PA prime minister, charged. "Israel is seeking to squeeze the Arabs out of the city. This has raised a lot of concern and has created mistrust between the two sides." Qurei said the Palestinians have also rejected the idea of land swap with Israel. "How can we give up any part of Jerusalem?" he asked. "For us Jerusalem is not only a spiritual or cultural or historic center, but also the economic center of the future Palestinian state. The settlements surrounding the city will make it hard for millions of Arabs, Muslims and Christians to visit Jerusalem in the future." Qurei also denied reports according to which he has not been speaking to PA President Mahmoud Abbas for several weeks now. "There are no differences between us, and all what's being said in this regard is untrue," he said. Qurei has boycotted several meetings with Abbas over the past few months, triggering rumors about a sharp dispute between the two. Meanwhile, for the first time in five years, the UN Security Council is poised to adopt a resolution calling for collective peace in the Middle East. Council members met Saturday in a closed-door emergency session to discuss a US-drafted resolution, strongly backed by Russia, that appeared to have near-unanimous support. A vote on it by the 15-nation council is expected Tuesday. The two-page draft resolution calls on Israelis and Palestinians "to fulfill their obligations" under the Annapolis process and for all nations and international groups "to contribute to an atmosphere conducive to negotiations." The council would reiterate "its vision of a region where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders." The US focus is on a smooth hand-off to President-elect Barack Obama that keeps up the momentum for peace, said US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who made a symbolic point of standing beside Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin while addressing reporters after the council session. "This is an important time for the council to express itself on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. There is transition taking place here - by here I mean the United States - and there is of course also transition possibilities in other countries in the region," Khalilzad said. It's also important, Khalilzad said, that nations "recognize the progress that has been made and for this process ... to be sustained, and for the council to express its support so that there is no pause in the negotiations" once Bush leaves the White House. Churkin said the draft resolution was presented to council members Saturday for the first time as a culmination of "this close joint work" between the US and Russia, which have been at serious odds much of this past year over Zimbabwe, Georgia and other issues. "We believe it's very important to continue the momentum," Churkin said. "Of course, we all cannot be satisfied with where the peace process is at now. But considerable effort has been made over the past 12 months or so. And we believe that the effort has to be pinned down, and it has to continue without a pause, which may be there because of some political circumstances: change of administration in the United States, elections in Israel, possible elections in the Palestinian autonomy." On Monday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will come to the UN for two days. First she will meet with the Middle East quartet _ the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations - that also will meet with Arab partners for talks on Middle East peace efforts. The next day she is participating in a council session on piracy from Somalia. "It is very important for the Security Council to show that they are on the side of the people on the ground" in the Middle East, said French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert, whose nation holds the EU presidency until the end of the year. He said France has been urging for a long time that the Security Council get involved in the Mideast peace process. "So for us it could be a very important milestone... to go forward to the solution of two states living side-by-side in peace," Ripert said. The council needs only nine members to pass the new draft resolution, but diplomats said the resolution appears to be headed toward near-unanimous passage. An Israeli official told The Jerusalem Post that "there is no reason for Israel to oppose such a move," hinting that Washington and Jerusalem may have coordinated the initiative. The official said that as long as the text backs the Annapolis process, supports continuing bilateral negotiations and does not impose timetables, then Israel welcomes the move. AP contributed to this report