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Middle east

Peace talks to start amid tensions over settlements

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-08-15

Israelis and Palestinians are set to return to the negotiating table on Wednesday, in a much-awaited reopening of peace talks. But tensions are high in the wake of the recent announcement of new Israeli settlements.

After three years of stalemate and decades of conflict, hope for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process surged in July, after US Secretary of State John Kerry convinced the two sides to resume talks.

Kerry gave the two sides nine months to map out an agreement.

But that was before the Israeli government announced, on Tuesday, August 13, that it was allowing the construction of 942 new settlement homes in East Jerusalem, in addition to roughly 1,187 others in the West Bank that had been approved two days earlier.

The news came as a startling twist as Israelis and Palestinians prepared to meet in Jerusalem on Wednesday, with US envoy Martin Indyk serving as mediator.

Now, several non-profit organisations and politicians are criticising Israel for jeopardising the peace talks before they have even begun.

“It’s a terrible decision, which amounts to a provocation of Palestinians, Americans and the rest of the world, who are opposed to further settlement building,” Yosef Alalu, a prominent figure on the Israeli left, told France’s Agence France Presse (AFP) on Wednesday.

Despite the new spike in tensions, it is unlikely that the talks will be cancelled. “Neither side wants to be held responsible for the failure of negotiations,” Charles Enderlin, Jerusalem correspondent for French TV channel France 2, told FRANCE 24.

Release of Palestinian prisoners irritates Israeli far right

Meanwhile, the Israeli government has maintained that the decision to greenlight new settlements is a legitimate one. “The new settlements in Jerusalem…will be situated on land that will remain Israeli,” Mark Regev, a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told AFP.

Jerusalem authorities emphasised that the settlements announced this week were not part of any new construction plan, but the continuation “of a development project announced two years ago”.

Before any building can begin, a long administrative process must be followed. That fact has led some analysts to believe that the announcement was essentially a ploy to appease the more hardline members of Netanyahu’s coalition, who were dismayed by the recent news that 26 Palestinian prisoners were to be freed (the prisoners were released early Wednesday).

“These terrorists that we are releasing killed women and children,” Israel’s housing minister, Uri Ariel, told AFP.

The prisoners freed on Wednesday are the first group of 104 detained Palestinians that Israel has promised to release if negotiations progress.

Kerry raises hopes

The negotiations will therefore begin in “an atmosphere of great scepticism”, Enderlin told FRANCE 24. “Netanyahu and Abbas want to restart the peace process, but don’t believe it will lead to anything. Each says that the maximum he is willing to offer does not even match the minimum of what the other can accept.”

Both sides are looking to Kerry to help move things along. Hillary Clinton’s successor is the first person, after three years of failed attempts by various foreign voices, to manage to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. “To get that far is already a success for John Kerry,” Enderlin noted, adding that the goal would now be to keep the talks going for as long as possible.

But in the current phase of the peace process, which basically consists of negotiating over the terms of future negotiations, Kerry is aware that the dialogue can end at any moment.

For now, he is trying to appease both sides ahead of the talks, urging Palestinians “not to react adversely” to Israel’s approval of new settlement construction and reminding Israel that the US “views all of the settlements as illegitimate”.

 

Date created : 2013-08-14

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