x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Livni says stalemate 'harmful for Israel' as Palestinian narrative gains traction

Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians, Tzipi Livni, says resuming negotiations is 'first and foremost an Israeli interest'.

JERUSALEM // Israel's chief peace negotiator with the Palestinians said yesterday the current stalemate was harmful for Israel.

Tzipi Livni told a parliamentary committee that resuming negotiations was "first and foremost an Israeli interest". She spoke days before the US secretary of state John Kerry was expected to arrive in Israel for his latest push to restart long-dormant talks.

Direct negotiations have been largely frozen since the two sides were reportedly close to a deal in late 2008. Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, insists talks resume without preconditions. The Palestinians demand a complete freeze in Jewish West Bank settlement construction beforehand.

She said the stalemate delivered a blow both to Israel's legitimacy and its freedom to act military if needed. She warned that the Palestinian narrative of the conflict is gaining traction internationally.

Ms Livni's comments came after her Palestinian counterpart told a UN committee that the Palestinians had done "everything" to enable the US to succeed in peace talks, and "there is a good opportunity now".

"Israel must make the choice - settlements or peace," Saeb Erekat told a meeting of the UN Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People on Monday.

The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in November to upgrade the Palestinians from a UN observer to a non-member observer state, a move vehemently opposed by the US and Israel. Recognition as a state gives the Palestinians the right to apply for membership in UN and other organisations, including the International Criminal Court.

Mr Erekat said the Palestinians have now completed the "instruments of accession" to join 63 UN specialised agencies, conventions and treaties, but they haven't been submitted because "mainly we wanted to give Obama and Kerry a chance" along with the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, the European Union and others to achieve a two-state solution based on borders before the 1967 Middle East war.

Mr Kerry convinced the Arab League this month to help promote a revival of peace talks by sweetening its deal of universal recognition for Israel if it pulls out of most of conquered territory in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, with possible agreed land swaps. But he has struggled to gain any public concession from Israel, which was accused last week of taking steps last week to legalise four unauthorised settlement outposts in the West Bank.

"We are exerting every possible effort to see that Mr Kerry succeeds," Mr Erekat said. "No one benefits more [from] the success of secretary Kerry than Palestinians and no one loses more [from] his failure than Palestinians."

But he said Israel must stop settlement building which is an obligation under a 1995 interim agreement and the 2003 road map to a Palestinian state - not a condition for resuming peace negotiations.

If Mr Kerry succeeds in a new peace plan, Mr Erekat said, the Palestinians will achieve their independence and freedom peacefully, but if he fails "we are going deeper into the evil apartheid that exists in the West Bank and East Jerusalem".