Settlement move puts Mideast talks in limbo
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry waves journalist after a press conference at the headquarters of the Colombian National Police Counter-Narcotics in Bogota, Colombia, Monday, Aug. 12, 2013. AP PhotoU.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has urged Palestinians “not to react adversely” to Israel’s announcement of new settlement building, stressing the need to return to the negotiating table.
However, a senior Palestinian official warned today that Middle East peace talks could “collapse” due to continuing Israeli settlement expansion.
“Settlement expansion goes against the U.S. administration’s pledges and threatens to cause the negotiations’ collapse,” Yasser Abed Rabbo told Agence France-Presse.
The comments came after Israeli authorities approved the construction of a total of more than 2,000 settlement units in east Jerusalem and the West Bank in the days leading up to the scheduled new round of direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians on Aug. 14.
The approval on Aug. 11 of 793 settlement housing units in annexed east Jerusalem and 394 elsewhere in the West Bank -- followed by today’s separate announcement of a further 942 in east Jerusalem -- hiked up tension ahead of the meeting of Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.
Kerry, on a trip to Colombia on Aug. 12, sought to neutralize the atmosphere in the Middle East, noting that the settlement plans were “to some degree expected,” and calling for both sides to resolve their major issues.
“We have known that there was going to be a continuation of some building in certain places, and I think the Palestinians understand that,” the chief U.S. diplomat said in Bogota. The last peace talks in 2010 broke down on the issue of settlement building.
But he added: “I think one of the announcements or maybe one of them was outside of that level of expectation, and that’s being discussed right now.” Kerry, who took the lead in securing last month’s resumption of peace talks, said he did not expect the latest developments to become a “speed bump,” but he reiterated that the United States regards all settlements as illegal.
“What this underscores, actually, is the importance of getting to the table... quickly, and resolving the questions with respect to settlements, which are best resolved by solving the problem of security and borders,” Kerry told reporters.
“Once you have security and borders solved, you have resolved the question of settlements. And so I urge all the parties not to react adversely or to provoke adversely, whichever party may do one or the other in any way,” he said. “With the negotiation of major issues, these kinds of hot-point issues really become much easier to - in fact, they are eliminated as the kind of flashpoints that they may be viewed as on Aug. 14.”
Israel shoots down rocket
Meanwhile, Israel shot down a rocket aimed at its southern resort city of Eilat early yesterday, blowing it up in mid air near the border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, a military official said.
Militants operating in the lawless desert peninsula said they fired the rocket at the city, which was packed with tourists, in retaliation for the killing of four militants in Sinai on Aug. 9. Air raid sirens rang out and blasts reverberated over the hills surrounding the resort on the shores of the Gulf of Aqaba, witnesses and Israeli news media said. No casualties or damage were reported.