Abbas: We’ll halt talks if no progress by Jan. 26 deadline

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin plants an olive tree visiting the Migron outpost Thursday. (Flash 90)

JERUSALEM  (JWN and agencies)—Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday threatened to abandon efforts to renew peace talks with Israel if no progress is made by the January 26 deadline set by the Quartet.

Abbas told reporters in Ramallah that Israel has made no new proposals in the two meetings this month initiated by Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman. Two more meetings are set for this Saturday and for January 25, Abbas told members of his Fatah movement.

On January 26 the three-month deadline set by members of the Quartet in September expires. The Quartet—the US, EU, UN, and Russia—gave the two sides three months to develop proposals on borders and security that would lead to the resumption of direct negotiations.

Abbas has held out on two preconditions for the talks which Israel has rejected: a freeze on settlement construction and acceptance of the 1949 armistice lines as the basis for a future border between Israel and Palestine. Israel insists that everything must be up for direct negotiations between the parties.

While both sides publicly welcomed King Abdullah’s initiative to invite the sides to exploratory talks in Amman, the Palestinian Authority’s participation was seen as coming more from Abbas’s reluctance to offend the king than a genuine desire for progress. Indeed, Abbas has not abandoned his strategy of taking unilateral steps to achieve statehood recognition at the UN.

“Until now, there is nothing new in the dialogue that is going on in Amman,” Abbas told Fatah leaders, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa. “We are not authorized to speak about what is going on in Amman, but our demands are known, and the Israelis didn’t present something we can accept.”

In Israel, a Foreign Ministry source said that there had been some disagreements in the Amman talks, but Israel remains committed to reaching a final peace deal this year. He said the documents submitted by the Palestinians in Amman “recycled” well known positions that Israel rejects.

As in an earlier dispute over the interpretation of the Quartet’s conditions, the Amman talks have raised the question of the time limit. In September the Quartet gave the sides three months to produce proposals on territory and security. The Palestinians interpret the three-month deadline as ending on January 26. In contrast, the Israeli official said Israel considers the three-months to have begun last week, when the talks resumed in Amman.

Abbas told visiting Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store on Thursday that the Palestinian Authority is prepared to resume direct peace negotiations with Israel only if the Israeli government halts construction in the settlements and east Jerusalem and accepts the two-state solution.

The PA Foreign Ministry on Thursday called on the Quartet and the international community to intervene with Israel to stop the continued construction in the settlements and east Jerusalem.

The ministry released a statement saying Israel’s “provocations and aggression against Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian territories would sabotage all efforts to resume the peace talks.” The ministry also threatened to pursue “Israeli war criminals and have them prosecuted before international courts and forums.”

In Jerusalem, senior cabinet members are to meet soon to set policy on illegal construction in West Bank settlements. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, and other officials are to “consolidate [the government’s] response” to the issue of illegal outposts in settlements on state land in Ramat Gilad, Mitzpe Yitzhar, Mitzpe Lachish, Givat Haroeh, and Ma’aleh Rehavam.

Three of the outposts–Givat Haroeh, Ma’aleh Rehavam, and Mitzpe Lachish–were on a list of 24 outposts built after March 2001, which past governments promised the United States would be demolished.

The government has been trying to reach agreements with settlers over outpost demolitions. In November, the High Court of Justice agreed to the state’s request to delay the dismantling of illegal buildings on private Palestinian land in Givat Assaf until July 2012, to give officials time to reach an accord with the outpost’s residents.

Earlier this month, the court agreed to another three-month delay in demolishing homes built on private Palestinian land in Ramat Gilad, after the state said that officials were working toward a “peaceful resolution” to illegal construction. On December 15, security forces demolished homes built illegally on private Palestinian land in Mitzpe Yitzhar.