RAMALLAH: A senior Palestinian official on Thursday rejected US moves to extend an April deadline for nine months of hard-won talks with Israel to culminate in a framework peace deal.
“There is no meaning to prolonging the negotiation, even for one more additional hour, if Israel, represented by its current government, continues to disregard international law,” Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP. “If there was a committed partner, we wouldn’t even have needed nine hours to reach that deal,” he said.
He was responding to comments by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who told reporters in Washington on Wednesday that more time would be needed and that he hoped first to agree a framework to guide further talks.
It was Kerry who coaxed the two sides back to the negotiating table in late July, after a three-year hiatus.
“Then we get into the final negotiations. I don’t think anybody would worry if there’s another nine months, or whatever it’s going to be... But that’s not defined yet,” he said. Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said last month that he expected the timeframe to be lengthened. “We are now trying to reach a framework to continue negotiations for a period beyond the nine months some thought would suffice for reaching a permanent accord,” he said.
US President Barack Obama is to host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House next week when he is expected to renew pressure on his guest to rein in the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, an issue that has threatened to drive the Palestinians away from the negotiating table. Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported on Thursday that Netanyahu’s cabinet had quietly begun a de facto freeze on expanding settlements outside the major Jewish population centres. The paper said the move was revealed to a West Bank settler leader in a conversation with Cabinet Secretary Avihai Mandelblit.
“We’ve received instructions from the political level not to move ahead on (construction) plans beyond those for the settlement blocs,” it quoted Mandelblit as telling Jordan Valley settler David Elhayani. Israeli army radio reported last week that Washington was expected to demand a partial settlement freeze when Kerry unveils his formula for extending the peace talks.
Israel has so far resisted persistent pressure from its key ally to renew a one-time, 10-month partial freeze on new West Bank building, which expired in late 2010, contributing to the collapse of the last round of peace talks.
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