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US and Israel seek settlements plan

Posted in Everyday life in the West Bank, History, International community, Israel, Israeli occupation, Israeli politics, Palestine, Peace process, USA foreign policy, West Bank with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 27/08/2009 by 3071km

Date Published: 27 August 2009

Source: Al Jazeera English
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Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has said progress is being made towards restarting peace talks with the Palestinians.

His comments came after talks in London with George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s Middle East envoy, which both described as “very productive”.

During four hours of talks the two discussed the issue of Israeli settlements as a major hurdle to the peace process.

A joint statement released after the meeting said an Israeli delegation would visit the US next week to follow up on the talks, although it did not elaborate on any measures Mitchell and Netanyahu may have agreed to.

According to the statement the two parties “agreed on the importance of restarting meaningful negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and working toward a comprehensive peace, and that all sides need to take concrete steps toward peace.”

However, Israel has resisted calls from Barack Obama, the US president, to freeze settlement building on occupied Palestinian land.

A freeze is key to the resumption of peace talks, and Israel’s reluctance to budge on the issue has led to a rare rift in US-Israeli relations.

Iran ‘deal’

Mitchell has been pressing Israel to halt construction as a confidence-building gesture to the Palestinians.

According to some media reports he was expected to offer Netanyahu a tougher US line on Iran’s nuclear programme in return for Israel partially freezing settlement building.

Britain’s The Guardian newspaper reported that the US, along with Britain and France, is planning to push the UN to include Iran’s oil and gas industry in sanctions against the country, a move that could cripple its economy.

An Israeli delegation is due to meet Mitchell next week in the US to continue the talks.

Alastair Crooke, a Middle East analyst who has worked with Mitchell, told Al Jazeera: “I’m sure that Mitchell doesn’t want to get stuck in this single issue for the next month, because the Americans have a deadline.

“They are really keen to get progress on the Palestinian issue before they leave Iraq in the interests of Israeli security.”

After meeting Mitchell in London, Netanyahu, who is on a four-day European tour, flew to Berlin where he met Horst Koehler, the German president, ahead of talks with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor.

Abbas ‘meeting’

Following the talks in London, Mark Regev, an Israeli spokesman, said an agreement with Washington which would allow peace talks to resume could come within weeks.

“The goal is to find common ground with the American administration … on a framework that will allow the restarting of an energised peace process,” he said.

“For that process to be meaningful, the Arab world has to be part of it.”

Israeli media reports have suggested that Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, will meet Netanyahu on the sidelines of next month’s meeting of the United Nations in New York.

In Jerusalem, a senior Palestinian official, said: “No one, neither from the Israelis nor from the United States contacted us for such a meeting but it could happen as a meeting but not as holding negotiations.

“What counts is to hold negotiations.”

Peace talks

Settlements in the West Bank, which Palestinians want for a future state, are home to 300,000 Israelis, and around 2.5million Palestinians.

Obama has said he opposes all settlement construction, while Abbas has staunchly refused to reopen peace talks until Netanyahu halts all settlement activity.

A survey released on Wednesday showed freezing settlements would be an unpopular move among Jewish Israelis, with almost two-thirds of those questioned by the Maagar Mohot polling company saying they opposed the move.

Netanyahu has said he sees the emphasis on settlements as unfair, and insisted conflict in the Middle East is rooted in Arab enmity towards Israel.

Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, said that a settlement agreement is indispensible to a peace deal because it prevents a “Palestinian independent contiguous state from emerging”.

However, he said that there had been little progress in Wednesday’s meeting.

“After nine months of telling Israel that they must stop the settlements, an entire government telling the American envoy in London today that they won’t stop the settlement building within the settlements. That is a failure of a meeting.”

On Tuesday, Netanyahu said that his government was unwilling to negotiate on the status of Jerusalem as a joint Israel-Palestinian capital.

Speaking in London at his meeting with Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, he had also said that any peace talks with the Palestinians would have to cover the issue of a “demilitarised Palestine”, as well as illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

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Netanyahu urges Palestinian ‘courage’

Posted in Everyday life in the West Bank, Fatah, International community, Israel, Israeli occupation, Palestine, Pictures, West Bank with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 25/08/2009 by 3071km

Date published: 25 August 2009

Source: The Guardian

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Brown upbeat on Middle East peace prospects after Netanyahu talks

• PM ‘as realistic as ever but more optimistic than before’
• Brown reiterates call for end to Jewish settlement buildin

Benjamin Netanyahu and Gordon Brown at Downing Street

Gordon Brown said today he was “increasingly confident” that Israel was willing to end settlement activity in the Palestinian territories.

After talks with his Israeli counterpart, Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister said he was “as realistic as ever but more optimistic than before” about peace in the Middle East.

“We share a vision of a secure and confident Israel accepted and welcomed by its neighbour alongside – after decades of waiting – a secure and viable Palestine in a region at peace with itself,” he said.

Speaking alongside Netanyahu in Downing Street, Brown said he had reiterated his call for an end to Jewish settlement building on Palestinian land.

“I made clear that settlement activity was a barrier to a two-state solution,” he said. “I’m increasingly confident, however, that there is a genuine will to make progress, that a freeze in such activity would result in meaningful steps towards normalisation from Arab states.”

Netanyahu, who faces the same demands from the US president, Barack Obama, said he had made clear Israel would not build new settlements or “expropriate additional land”. But he stressed there was a need for facilities to enable “normal life” for Jewish settlers already in the West Bank. “This is very different from grabbing land,” he told reporters.

He said Britain and Israel had “common hopes and common challenges”, but stressed the threat from Iran and the need for Palestinians to recognise Israel.

Netanyahu said Israel had already moved to improve access to the West Bank. With the territory enjoying a period of calm, some Israeli military checkpoints have been lifted and permits for importing raw materials are being granted.

“We have moved, we expect similar movement from the Palestinian Authority and there has not been that movement. That’s an understatement,” he said. “But there has to be that movement. There has to be not merely a partner on the other side, there has to be a courageous partner.”

“They have to say unequivocally ‘it’s over, we are going to make a real peace, it will be a final peace that ends all claims to further conflict’.”

Brown said he deplored Iran’s aggressive comments about Israel. “Such diatribe has no place in a civilised world,” he said. “We also share Israel’s concerns over Iranian ambitions to develop a nuclear weapon.

“Iran needs to co-operate with the international community, to take up President Obama’s unprecedented offer of engagement. Until then, the international community will continue to view Iranian ambitions with suspicion.”

Netanyahu is due to meet the US Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, tomorrow, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Berlin on Thursday. While Netanyahu will want to emphasise the potential threat from Iran if it acquires nuclear weapons, European leaders are expected to underline their concerns about the spread of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

In Washington the state department spokesman, Ian Kelly, said the US and Israel were “getting closer” to agreement on the resumption of talks. “I don’t want to go into the details of exactly why, but just to say that we’re hopeful that we can resume very soon,” Kelly said.

Hefetz said Israel believed talks could be resumed within two months. Israeli government officials say a compromise under discussion could see Israel freeze building for nine to 12 months, but this will not include East Jerusalem or building that has already begun.

The halt in approvals for new building was dismissed by Netanyahu’s critics. The settlement watchdog group Peace Now said there had been no real slowdown in construction and that settlers could keep building indefinitely, using plans that had already been approved. In a new report, Peace Now said Israeli defence ministry figures showed existing government approval to build more than 40,000 housing units in West Bank settlements.

In his meeting with Mitchell, Netanyahu is expected to stress that Israel will not accept limits on its sovereignty in Jerusalem, in particular in relation to building new housing units in the city, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has said he would resume peace talks with Israel, suspended since December, on condition of a freeze on settlement activity. Some 500,000 Jews live in the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem, territory that Israel captured in the 1967 war and which is home to 2.5 million Palestinians.