x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Palestinians and Israelis raise rhetoric ahead of Kerry visit

Israel and the Palestinians are sharpening their rhetoric as United States secretary of state, John Kerry, heads back to the region, hoping to nudge the two sides towards a peace framework.

JERUSALEM // Israel and the Palestinians sharpened their rhetoric as the United States secretary of state, John Kerry, headed to the region on Wednesday hoping to nudge the two sides towards a peace framework.

The latest US quest for a long-elusive peace deal has shown little sign of progress since Mr Kerry revived direct talks in July, and this week leaders from both sides questioned the other’s commitment to ending the decades-old conflict.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, warned on Tuesday that his side would take “diplomatic and legal” action against Israel to halt the expansion of Jewish settlements on land the Palestinians want for their future state.

“We will not remain patient as the settlement cancer spreads, especially in (annexed Arab east) Jerusalem, and we will use our right as a UN observer state by taking political, diplomatic and legal action to stop it,” he said. “These actions... threaten to destroy the two-state solution.”

Ahead of Mr Kerry’s visit, the sides have been squabbling over the Jordan Valley, a strategic part of the West Bank along the border with neighbouring Jordan. Israel wants to retain a security presence in the Jordan Valley even after a peace deal is reached. The Palestinians reject any Israeli presence in their state.

The Israeli military on Wednesday prevented dozens of Palestinian and international activists from building a symbolic village in the Jordan Valley on the shore of the Dead Sea, the activists said.

Salah Al Khawaja, one of the organisers, said the military set up a check point in their way and stopped them and forced them to return back. He said the activists protested on the spot, raising Palestinian flags and signs read “the Jordan Valley is ours.” The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

Mr Al Khawaja said the activists had planned to set up a tent on the shore “as a symbolic response” to Israel actions in the area. Earlier this week, an Israeli ministerial committee voted in favour of annexing the Jordan Valley. The legislation is not expected to pass.

On Thursday, Israeli hardliners plan on breaking ground for a new neighbourhood in a Jordan Valley settlement.

* Agence France-Presse and Associated Press