Palestinians prepare alternatives to peace talks

Palestinians prepare alternatives to peace talks

The Palestinians will study alternatives to peace talks with Israel in the coming days, a top PLO official said , after the Jewish state gave the green light to build 238 new houses on war-won land.

But it is unlikely the Palestinians will take any dramatic steps before November 2 mid-term elections in the US, since Arab leaders have already promised the Obama administration more time – until a few days after the vote - to try to relaunch negotiations.

Yesterday’s statements seemed intended mainly as a new warning that Washington’s peace efforts were in trouble.

The negotiations, launched by the US in early September, quickly broke down over Israel’s refusal to extend a limited curb on building in West Bank settlements, deemed illegal by the international community.

The Palestinians want to establish their state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem – territories Israel captured in the 1967 war – and say there is no point negotiating as long as expanding settlements gobble up more of that land.

Nearly half a million Israelis live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Israel’s 10-month moratorium on new housing starts in the West Bank expired on September 26. Israel never formally declared building restrictions in east Jerusalem, though an informal freeze was believed to have been in effect for several months. However, on Thursday Israel announced plans to build 238 more homes for Jews in east Jerusalem, sought by the Palestinians as a future capital.

Both the US and Russia said they were disappointed by Israel’s announcement and that the new construction plans ran counter to efforts to rescue the negotiations.

But Israeli officials said the new construction was confined to neighbourhoods that would remain in Israeli hands in any proposed peace plan and in no way contradicted Israel’s goal of reaching peace with the Palestinians.

Yesterday Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas met leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and his Fatah movement at his headquarters in the West Bank.

The Palestinians planned to study their options in coming days, said Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the PLO.

“These political options include going to the UN and to the Security Council,” he said.

Palestinian officials have said in the past they might ask the Security Council to recognise a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, in case negotiations with Israel break down.

But the US could quickly derail such a move with a veto and it appears unlikely the Palestinians would proceed down that path without American backing. For now, Washington opposes unilateral steps.

Mohammed Ishtayeh, a senior Fatah official, said the Palestinians would have prepared options by the time they consulted with the Arab League in three weeks.

“We and the Arabs will choose which of these options can be implemented,” he said. “It’s not just a matter of going here or there, without having an outcome on the ground, because some of these options need American consent or facilitation.”

Mr Abed Rabbo, meanwhile, rejected Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent proposal that the Palestinians recognise Israel as the Jewish national homeland in exchange for Israel reimposing the curb on settlements.

He said the PLO and Israel formally recognised each other in 1993. “There is no need to reopen the issue (of recognition),” he said.

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