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Mideast peace talks said facing crisis

Nov. 5, 2013 at 7:14 AM   |   Comments

JERUSALEM, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- Ahead of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to Israel, talks between Israel and the Palestinians are facing a mini crisis, officials said.

Kerry is due to arrive late Tuesday.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned Monday negotiations have failed to make progress and expressed fear they were on the verge of exploding, Israel Radio and The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday.

"After all the rounds of negotiations nothing is actually happening, and tensions may rise soon, since Israel says, 'We released prisoners and we can't bear it, so we boost settlement construction,'" Ynetnews.com quoted Abbas as saying in Ramallah.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu accused the Palestinians of creating an artificial crisis, The Jerusalem Post said.

"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?" Netanyahu asked.

In the past three months Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have met 15 times in Jerusalem and Jericho, and talks have focused on security-related issues as well as borders and water, Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Radio reported

U.S. envoys facilitating Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are acting more like passive observers than mediators, giving the impression Israeli officials can do whatever they want, a Palestinian official told Haaretz.

Kerry is to meet with Abbas in Bethlehem Wednesday.

Palestinian sources told the newspaper they expect Abbas to express disappointment Israel continues building settlements in occupied territory and ask for Washington to pressure Israel to halt the settlement expansion.

The sources said they also expected Abbas to ask Kerry to present guidelines for a permanent agreement before the nine-month negotiation period ends in March.

Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi told the newspaper any proposed peace plan that lacks a timetable and isn't termed a permanent solution would not be accepted by the Palestinians.

"Israeli conduct throughout the years has proven that whatever is defined as a temporary stage becomes permanent and cannot lead anywhere; therefore, the feeling among the Palestinian leadership is that Israel is doing its best to force us to leave the negotiating table," she said.

The timetable must include resolution of so-called core issues, including borders, Jerusalem, security, refugees and recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, Haaretz said.

"The Palestinian position is that any agreement must be based on the 1967 borders, and once that is agreed upon we understand that one cannot evacuate settlements within 24 hours," the official said. "Therefore, one can discuss a timetable. If we get to the point of discussing timetables it would mean significant progress, but we aren't there yet."

Washington has proposed a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the creation of a non-militarized Palestinian state based on Israel's borders before the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war that led to Israel's West Bank and Gaza occupation. The borders would be modified by land swaps.

PLO officials told Haaretz the possibility of a permanent agreement was raised during the talks that led to the renewal of negotiations, but Israel did not agree to that principle.

The officials also said there will be no peace breakthrough as long as Netanyahu does not agree to the prewar borders and continues to talk about maintaining Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem.

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