Palestinians link talks plan to settlement freeze

September 29, 2011

The Palestinian leadership on Thursday cautiously welcomed a proposal by international mediators to resume peace negotiations but said Israel had to first halt settlement building on occupied land, a demand rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Palestinian position, issued after a meeting in Ramallah chaired by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, underlined the continuing impasse that has prevented a resumption of talks, even as the United Nations Security Council considers a Palestinian application for U.N. membership.

The executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization said there were “a number of encouraging elements” in an initiative by the so-called Quartet of Middle East mediators — which includes the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — to resume talks within a month with a view to negotiating an agreement by the end of 2012.

But a statement by the leadership said Israel’s government had to “clearly commit” to all the principles outlined in the Quartet proposal, “especially with regard to halting settlement and recognizing the 1967 borders, so that the desired negotiations can begin as soon as possible.”

“The Palestinian leadership reiterates that it cannot accept the launch of negotiations . . . while settlement continues,” the statement said.

The Quartet proposal calls on the Israelis and Palestinians to agree on an agenda for talks, produce comprehensive proposals on the issues of territory and security within three months and make substantial progress within six months.

The initiative does not mention Israeli settlements, but it calls on both sides to “refrain from provocative actions” and cites their obligations under the 2003 peace blueprint known as the road map, which called for an Israeli settlement freeze and a cessation of violence by the Palestinians.

The proposal also cites President Obama’s outline for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, set out in a speech in May, which calls for an accord based on Israel’s 1967 boundaries, with agreed land swaps that would allow for the absorption into Israel of some West Bank settlements in return for Israeli territory.

Netanyahu has rejected the call for a settlement freeze, urging negotiations without preconditions and accusing the Palestinians of trying to avoid talks. A 10-month Israeli moratorium on new construction in settlements expired last September, leading the Palestinians to break off negotiations.

On Tuesday, Israel advanced plans to build 1,100 homes in a Jewish neighborhood on West Bank land annexed to Jerusalem, angering Palestinians and drawing international condemnation, including a sharp rebuke from Washington.

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post published Wednesday, Netanyahu ruled out another settlement freeze and said he had no intention of intervening to halt the latest building plans in Jerusalem.

“The Palestinians, by coming back to the issue of the settlement freeze, indicate that they don’t really want to negotiate,” Netanyahu said. “So it’s a pretext.”

Palestinian officials contend that Israeli settlement expansion is swallowing up land they seek for a future state, preempting negotiations. The latest construction plans in Jerusalem were part of an Israeli effort to “determine in advance the results of the negotiations and the fate of occupied Palestinian land,” the Palestinian leadership said.

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