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TEL AVIV, August 14 (Itar-Tass) - The second round of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks that took place in Jerusalem on Wednesday, August 14, is unlikely to advance the peace process as the Israeli delegation is skeptical about the negotiators’ mandate while the Palestinian team is voicing concern about Israel’s settlement activities which may upset the peace efforts.
According to reports, talks in Jerusalem will be held behind closed doors with no press admitted. Neither the place nor the time of the meetings will be announced. The topics to be discussed will not be disclosed either. The U.S. Department of State or U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry himself is expected to make statements on the results of the talks.
The Israeli delegation to the talks is led by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni; the Palestinian side is headed by chief peace negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Any agreement to be reached as a result of the talks will be submitted to a nationwide referendum, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said.
It was agreed that the talks would start after the end of the holy month of Ramadan to be followed by several holiday days ending on August 11.
“So the talks between Israelis and Palestinians will start right after the holidays, that is, after August 11,” al-Maliki said.
Speaking of their venue, he said they would be held locally. “In Jerusalem or in Jericho. Or alternately in Jerusalem and Jericho... it is important that the talks take place on both Israeli and Palestinian territory by turns.”
On relations with Hamas, al-Maliki said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “has all the authority to conduct these negotiations on behalf of the Palestinian people.”
He said, however, that “any agreement that may be reached at the talks with the Israelis will be submitted to a nationwide referendum in Palestine. We are going to adhere to this agreement.”
The parties will discuss all disputable questions. “We agreed that mainly border and security issues will be discussed at the initial stage. But the borders of Palestine cannot be determined without discussing the problems of Jerusalem and Jewish settlements. There is a preliminary agreement that each concrete issue will be considered in connection with the others,” the minister said.
In its statement on July 30, the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People said “Israel … would have to decide whether to help Palestine achieve independence or whether to continue confiscations, settlement construction and other such illegal policies and practices.”
Abdou Salam Diallo, Committee Chairman, highlighted, among others, Israel’s announcement to build 1,000 new homes in West Bank settlements; criticism by the Chairman of the Special Committee on Israeli Practices of Israel’s continued detention of more than 5,000 Palestinian prisoners; and reports by a non-governmental organisation that, so far this year, 1,790 Palestinians had been arrested and 16 shot dead by the Israeli military.
U.S. Secretary of State Kerry had persuaded Israel to release more than100 Palestinian prisoners who were put in jail before the Oslo agreement of 1993. In reply, Palestine had agreed to come to Washington in late July. The first group of 26 Palestinians was released from Israeli prisons on Tuesday, August 13.
“We have set the task of coming to some agreement with the Palestinians within nine months, but we have tried to do this over the past 20 years since the Oslo agreement and for more than 120 years since the start of the conflict,” Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon said, commenting on Wednesday’s round of talks.
“Skepticism in my tone is obvious but we decided to give it a chance,” he added.
The Palestinian side warned that further settlement activities on the part of Israel could cause the peace process to collapse. “The expansion of settlements runs counter to the American administration’s promises and can lead to a collapse of the negotiations,” Palestinian Liberation Organisation Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo said.
Israel’s Interior Ministry on Monday, August 12, approved the construction of 890 new flats in Gilo, a large residential area in south-western East Jerusalem with a population of 40,000, mostly Jewish, located beyond the 1949 Green Line. Prior to that, Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel had authorised the construction of 394 houses in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and 793 flats in East Jerusalem, including 400 in Gilo. However neither programme has so far entered the final stage when tenders are announced.
After the first round of discussions on July 29 and 30, the sides agreed to meet again in the Middle East in about two weeks’ time. The exact time and venue have yet to be determined. The parties also agreed to continue the dialogue for at least nine months in order to try to resolve the most critical disagreements over such issues as Israel’s security, the borders of the Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the return of the Palestinian refugees.
The meetings in Washington marked the beginning of these talks and served as an opportunity to develop a procedural work plan for how the parties can proceed with the negotiations in the coming months.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry admitted, however, that “no one believes that the longstanding differences between the parties can be resolved overnight or just wiped away.”
Kerry pointed out that “the challenges require some very tough choices in the days ahead” and “the road ahead will be difficult and the challenges that the parties face are daunting” but said he was “hopeful because of the courageous leadership shown by President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Both of them have chosen to make difficult choices here, and both of them were instrumental in pushing in this direction.”
They agreed that “the difficult road ahead is worth travelling and that the daunting challenges that we face are worth tackling. So they have courageously recognised that in order for Israelis and Palestinians to live together side by side in peace and security, they must begin by sitting at the table together in direct talks.”
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was encouraged by “this positive development” and called on both sides to show leadership, courage, and responsibility to sustain this effort towards achieving the two-State vision.
He noted that the U.N. will continue to support any endeavour towards meaningful negotiations and to the achievement of a comprehensive peace in the region.
Direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians stalled in September 2010, after Israel refused to extend its freeze on settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Addressing the Security Council in April, the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, urged the international community to maintain its commitment to advancing the prospects for resuming direct talks between the two sides.