Israeli-Palestinian peace talks under threat as two negotiators submit their resignations over continued settlement construction in the West Bank

 

Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations which resumed under US auspices only three months ago have come under strain as the two Palestinian negotiators, Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Shtayeh, submitted their resignations, citing continued Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, a Palestinian official said.

But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly refused to accept the resignations and it was not immediately clear if these two close associates of his actually intend to follow through with them, something that would strain ties with Washington that are highly prized by the president. Still, their step constitutes a clear signal that all is not well in the talks cobbled together by US Secretary of State John Kerry. Israel's Ynet news agency quoted Israeli sources as dismissing the resignation threats as a stunt to grab the attention of Mr Kerry, due to visit the region next week.

But Abdullah Abdullah, deputy commissioner on foreign relations for Mr Abbas's Fatah movement said:''They submitted their resignations because Israel is pursuing destructive policies, especially on the settlement issue and is taking a non-serious approach to the negotiations. The Americans aren't showing any positive stand.'' The attempted resignations came at a meeting of the PLO executive committee of which both Mr Erekat and Mr Shtayeh are members.

Haaretz newspaper reported that Israel has plans to build five thousand additional units at settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, on land Palestinians envision as their future state. ''They are making it almost impossible to have a viable state established,'' said Mr Abdullah. ''The Americans were advised of these policies and if they can't do anything about them, why should we continue?''

Mr Kerry has shrouded the negotiations in secrecy so that it has been hard to gauge if any headway has been made. But Mr Abdullah said ''there have been thirteen rounds and there is no meaningful progress at all.''

Haaretz reported that some of the additional settler units are to be built in remote areas outside of the settlement clusters Israel is expected to retain in land swaps under an agreement. About 550,000 settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in what the international community, with the possible exception of Washington, considers a violation of international law.

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