20th Nov 2019

Abbas warns Ashton of threat to peace talks

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has warned in a letter to EU high representative Catherine Ashton that an end to Israel's partial settlement freeze would bring an immediate halt to direct peace talks, announced on Friday (19 August).

"It's impossible to conduct negotiations alongside settlement construction," he wrote in a letter to the EU's foreign policy chief, US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, the Israeli daily, Haaretz, reports.

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  • Mahmoud Abbas warned the EU and US that they must pressure Israel to maintain the settlement 'freeze' (Photo: European Parliament - Audiovisual Unit)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last November announced a partial 10-month moratorium on new construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank. The move, attacked by Ramallah as disingenuous, as it excluded public buildings and construction in East Jerusalem, ends on 26 September.

Mr Netanyahu for his part told ministers of his right-wing Likud party on Sunday that the end-date to the partial freeze will be adhered to, giving the freshly announced direct peace talks, which are due to begin 2 September, a very brief window to achieve results unless there is pressure from the US, EU and other members of the quartet to convince Israel to extend the moratorium.

The Israeli leader said he believed that if Ramallah is "a real partner," then peace could be achieved.

"If we find we have a real partner on the Palestinian side, an honest and earnest partner in negotiations that will need both sides to make the necessary steps - not just the Israeli side but also the Palestinian side - if we find we have a partner like that, we can soon reach a historic peace agreement between the two peoples."

He set out three elements of a final agreement: "realistic security arrangements," recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and an end to the conflict. He also underscored that such security arrangements would involve disarming the Palestinian side, while Israel remained free to maintain its military.

Ms Ashton welcomed the move by both sides to launch direct talks. Since taking office, the high representative has focussed much of her energies on resolving the Middle East conflict.

"This decision by the parties to engage in substantive talks represents a major step on the road towards a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the region, something I am hopeful we can now achieve," she said in a statement. "We all want to see a two-state solution with the State of Israel and an independent, democratic, contiguous and viable State of Palestine, living side by side in peace and security with each other and their neighbours."

Hamas, the governors of the Gaza Strip and excluded from the talks, have called the negotiations "a waste of time," however.

"Hamas is not against the principle of negotiation. But is Israel really interested in making these talks successful?" Ghazi Hamad, the group's spokesman, told EUobserver. "We need Israel to say from the outset: 'We are an occupying force; all 1967 borders are not part of Israel and we are ready to give up, to withdraw from these territories.'"

Mr Hamad said that Israel will use the talks to consolidate its hold over East Jerusalem.

"But Israel will say: 'Jerusalem is our capital. Jericho is part of Israel. We have to keep a security zone in the West Bank. We have to keep building the wall and to keep our border checkpoints.' This means they are wasting time"

"The EU and the Quartet want to impose some conditions on Hamas, like recognition of Israel and renunciation of violent resistance [as a pre-condition to including it in the talks]. It's not fair - when they ask Hamas to recognise Israel but do not ask Israel to recognise the Palestinian state. How can victims be asked to give recognition to the thief? How?"

The militant Islamist Hamas was joined in its scepticism by anti-corruption campaigner and critic of the Palestinian Authority Mustafa Barghouti.

In a statement last week he criticised the new talks for not containing "clear terms of reference, a timetable, a binding mechanism for implementation, an active role from the international community, American or other international guarantees, and a firm Israeli commitment to international law and UN resolutions."

Mr Barghouti, a popular democracy activist that rejects both "autocracy and corruption of the governing Fatah party, nor the fundamentalism of Hamas" warned that the talks' terms of reference should have be based on international law and UN resolutions.

He said he feared the talks would result in "an even larger failure than that of the Camp David negotiations," 17 years ago.


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