x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Mahmoud Abbas: Negotiations with Israel have 'run their course'

Israel fails to meet deadline over proposals on borders and security for Palestinian state.

The EU Foreign Policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and Filippo Grandi, Commissioner of the UN Relief and Works Agency signed for an additional- funding request in Gaza City yesterday.
The EU Foreign Policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and Filippo Grandi, Commissioner of the UN Relief and Works Agency signed for an additional- funding request in Gaza City yesterday.

JERUSALEM // Exploratory talks with Israel on resuming full-fledged peace negotiations have run their course, the Palestinian president said yesterday.

Speaking in Jordan after meeting King Abdullah II, Mahmoud Abbas said he will consult with the Arab League next week on whether to extend them.

Diplomats were working to prevent the collapse of the discussions in Amman which started this year but have made no progress despite immense international pressure.

The sides were supposed to have exchanged detailed proposals on borders and security arrangements for a Palestinian state by today. Palestinian officials said they submitted their proposals. Israel did not publicly state yesterday whether it had done the same.

"If we demarcate the borders, we can return to negotiations, but Israel does not want to do that," Mr Abbas said.

The deadline was set in September by the EU, US, Russia and the UN, collectively known as the Middle East Peace Quartet, which hoped the parties would then resume formal negotiations and broker a final settlement by the end of this year.

But expectations of compromise were low ahead of yesterday's meeting between Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian peace negotiator, and his Israeli counterpart, Yitzhak Molcho. It was to be their fifth face-to-face in the Jordanian capital since their meetings began on January 3.

An official in the office of the Palestinian Authority president said yesterday that the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, planned a trip to the region next week.

The official said Mr Ban would visit the Palestinian leader in Ramallah.

He described the purpose of the trip as "finding a way to keep the peace process alive".

The EU foreign policy head, Catherine Ashton, began a three-day tour of the region on Tuesday that her office described as an "effort to push the peace talks". She is scheduled to meet Mr Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister.

"Ashton is trying to extend these negotiations because Europe is afraid of the peace process' complete collapse," said Hani Masri, an independent Palestinian analyst who lives in Ramallah.

The EU hopes to soften two key Palestinian demands for returning to formal peace talks: that Israel halt settlement construction and agree to the 1967 borders as a basis for future negotiations.

Israel has declined both. It also has refused to match a Palestinian proposal on borders and security presented during the recent Amman meetings.

The last round of direct Israel-Palestinian peace talks, resuming in September 2010, collapsed because Israel refused to stop building Jewish settlements.

Meanwhile, Jordan announced on Tuesday that Hamas' Damascus-based leader, Khaled Meshaal, would visit on Sunday accompanied by Qatar's crown prince, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.

It would be Mr Meshaal's first official visit to Jordan since the country expelled the Islamist group in 1999.

Mr Masri described the trip as important for bolstering the credibility of King Abdullah among Jordan's Islamists and protesters who have demonstrated for reforms to his power.

Mr Meshaal also is preparing a visit to the Gaza Strip, which Hamas controls, accompanied by Mr Abbas, in a show of solidarity designed to bolster the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation accord of last May. Mr Abbas heads Fatah. Mr Abbas has been on a 10-day European tour lobbying for support from officials in Britain, Germany and Russia, during which he has warned Israel of "harsh" measures if it did not compromise during the Amman talks.

But Yossi Alpher, the Israeli co-editor of Bitterlemons.org, an online publication specialising in Israeli-Palestinian issues, questioned this strategy.

"Without solid American involvement, everyone knows nothing will happen," Mr Alpher said, referring to the peace process.


* With additional reporting by Associated Press

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