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Palestinians angry at US failure to get settlement freeze

Wednesday December 08, 2010 09:55:54 PM, DPA

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Ramallah/Jerusalem: Palestinians lashed out Wednesday at a US announcement that it had failed to get Israel to agree to temporarily freeze construction on its West Bank settlements.

A freeze would have allowed the resumption of direct peace talks.

"A tough crisis exists," Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in Athens, where he is on an official visit.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior advisor to Abbas, described the US announcement as a "blow" to US efforts, and said the Palestinian Authority would now adopt an alternative strategy of working with the international community to get Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The US call on Palestinians and Israel to send delegations to Washington to discuss how to deal with core issues at stake in the negotiations was an attempt to waste more time, he added.

The US declared Tuesday that it was abandoning efforts to get Israel to institute a 90-day freeze on construction at its West Bank settlements, and would instead focus on the core issues with the parties.

A previous, 10-month limited Israeli settlement freeze ended Sep 26, placing newly-restarted peace talks in limbo as Palestinians insisted it be extended to allow the negotiations to continue.

The US proposed last month that Israel extend the freeze by 90 days, in return for incentives, but Tuesday night admitted the proposal was going nowhere.

Palestinians were unanimous Wednesday that Israel was to blame for the impasse, and Abbed Rabbo, who was accompanying Abbas on his visit to Greece, said they were "surprised that the US did not openly condemn Israel".

He said the Palestinian leader received an oral message from the US late Tuesday that Washington wanted to hold separate meetings with Palestinian and Israeli delegates on how to move forward on final status issues.

He described this as "an attempt for more stalling".

"If the US was not able to get Israel to freeze settlements for a limited period in order to hold serious negotiations, how can it get Israel to accept the two-state solution based on the 1967 borders?" he asked.

Israeli officials issued no comment Wednesday, except to say that "Israel remains determined to continue the efforts to achieve a historic peace agreement with the Palestinians, an agreement that will bring about genuine reconciliation between the two peoples".

"We believe that it is indeed possible to see the Palestinians achieve sovereignty while protecting Israel's most vital national and security interests," a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office read.

The Jerusalem Post daily quoted diplomatic officials as saying the present impasse had been reached due to a gap between what Israel thought could happen during the 90 days allocated for the latest construction freeze, and Palestinian expectations.

The Palestinians wanted the talks to concentrate on defining the borders of their future state, and expected an agreement could be reached within three months.

The Israelis, on the other hand, said they would not talk about borders without also discussing security and would not discuss ceding land without knowing in advance what security arrangements would be in place.

Israel claims that without such security arrangements, any land given to the Palestinians could become a launch pad for attacks, as happened when it withdrew from the Gaza Strip and the Islamist Hamas movement seized control there.

Israeli sources quoted in the Post said the US concluded that even with a 90-day construction moratorium there was no guarantee an agreement on borders could be reached.







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