Israeli-Palestinian talks over?

Jan. 26, 2012 at 6:05 PM
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RAMALLAH, West Bank, Jan. 26 (UPI) -- Negotiations in the Middle East appeared to have reached an impasse Thursday as a Palestinian deadline for ending exploratory talks with Israel passed.

Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to try to keep the talks going, The Washington Post reported.

"I don't think there's an impasse," she said after the meeting. "President Abbas is thinking carefully about how to move forward."

Isaac Molho, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's representative, and Palestinian negotiator Saeeb Erekat held the fifth meeting of the current round of talks Wednesday in Amman, Haaretz reported.

Erekat said Israel had failed to present a position on borders for a Palestinian state.

An Israeli official told the Post the situation is an "artificial crisis" created by the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority had set Thursday as a deadline for agreeing on a framework for more substantive talks.

Neither side has definitively said the talks are over, Haaretz reported. Netanyahu said his government is willing to keep talking while Abbas has said he will make a decision after consultations at the Arab League meeting Feb. 4.

The Palestinian National Authority has said it wants Israel to accept, as a basis for negotiations, Israel's borders before the 1967 Six-Day War that led to Israel's West Bank and Gaza occupation. It also wants Israel to halt Jewish settlement construction -- deemed illegal under international law -- in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

U.S. President Barack Obama called last May for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the creation of a non-militarized Palestinian state based on Israel's pre-war borders, modified by land swaps -- a proposal Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu immediately rejected, calling the borders "indefensible'' and counter to earlier U.S. commitments.

Netanyahu urged Palestinian negotiators to return to the talks without preconditions, rejecting the Palestinian demand to halt settlement building.

"They would be making a mistake if they are looking for excuses to leave the table," an Israeli official quoted by the British newspaper The Independent said. "Walking away ... is not going to solve anything."

The plan, presented in September by the Quartet -- the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia -- set a Thursday deadline for both sides to present proposals on borders and security.

Options the authority may consider include reviving its U.N. statehood bid and asking the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged war crimes during the Israeli invasion of the Palestinian-controlled Gaza strip in 2008, The Independent said.

The last top-level talks took place in Washington in September 2010 but collapsed within weeks when Israel's partial moratorium on settlement construction in the West Bank expired.

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