x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

US ‘asking Palestinians for concessions’ to silence Israel over Iran deal

US acquiescence to Israel's security demands is aimed at 'silencing the Israelis over the deal with Iran and achieving a fake progress in the Palestinian-Israeli track at our expense', senior Palestinian official says.

JERUSALEM // A senior Palestinian official said the United States was asking Palestinians to make security concessions in peace talks with Israel, in an aim to silence Israeli criticism of world power diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear programme.

The accusations by Yasser Abed Rabbo, who joined Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a meeting with the US secretary of state, John Kerry, last week, further clouded hopes of achieving a negotiated accord by an April target date.

Mr Kerry, who is expected to return to the region later this week, presented both sides with suggestions last Thursday about how Israel might fend off future threats from a Palestinian state envisaged in the West Bank land that it now occupies.

Israel has long demanded that any eventual accord allow it to retain swathes of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, as well as military control of the territory’s eastern Jordan Valley — effectively, the prospective Palestine’s border with Jordan.

But Mr Abed Rabbo told Voice of Palestine radio that Mr Kerry had plunged the process into crisis by seeking to “appease Israel through agreeing to its expansion demands in the Jordan Valley under the pretext of security”.

US acquiescence to Israel’s security demands was aimed at “silencing the Israelis over the deal with Iran and achieving a fake progress in the Palestinian-Israeli track at our expense”, Mr Abed Rabbo said.

He was referring to the November 24 interim accord reached in Geneva between world powers and Iran, whereby Tehran agreed to some curbs on its disputed nuclear programme in exchange for the easing of international sanctions.

Dan Shapiro, the US ambassador to Israel, said yesterday there was no quid pro quo between the Iran and Palestine talks.

“These two issues concern both Israel’s security and our security and the interests of all the Middle East, that it be a more quiet and stable region. But we do not see any linkage in which we seek to give on one issue and receive on the other,” Mr Shapiro said.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, initially condemned the Geneva deal as an “historic mistake” that risked helping Iran’s struggling economy, while leaving it with the means to make a nuclear bomb. Iran says its nuclear drive is peaceful.

The Geneva deal further strained Mr Netanyahu ties with the Obama administration, which is mindful of support for Israel in the US congress, though the Israeli prime minister struck a more conciliatory tone last week. Still, talks remain strained a deal appears far off.

On Sunday, Mr Netanyahu said that any agreement that emerged from the talks will likely initially result in a “cold peace”, and therefore Israel must insist on “ironclad security arrangements” to protect itself.

“It is not too much to ask. It is the minimum requirement for peace. But it is not the only requirement,” Mr Netanyahu said. “I don’t delude myself. I think that any kind of peace we’ll have is likely, initially, to be a cold peace and it must withstand the forces of terrorism and the ravaging forces of radicalism and all the forces backed by Iran and others that will try to unravel the peace.”

Israel has not commented on the US proposals but cabinet minister Yaakov Peri said on Sunday that the government had not yet agreed to them. Amid deep Palestinian pessimism over prospects for a deal, many Israelis also question whether Mr Abbas would be able to keep his rivals Hamas, who rule the Gaza Strip and spurn coexistence with Israel, to adhere to an eventual accord.

Mr Shapiro said Gaza’s government would have to change for Palestinian statehood to be fully realised.

“We are talking about two states for two peoples. The Palestinian state will also include Gaza. But there has to be a change to the regime there. That is clear.”

* Agencies