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Expert: next year to be crucial for Middle East

December 16, 2013, 19:18 UTC+3 MOSCOW
In 2014, the international community’s attention will be riveted to the Palestinian-Israeli problem, especially their talks on the final status of Palestine
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© ITAR-TASS/Mikhail Pochuev

MOSCOW, December 16. /ITAR-TASS/. Next year will be crucial for the Middle East, Vitaly Naumkin, Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said on Monday, December 16.

“Changes are in store for the Middle East. Elections are scheduled to take place in several countries, specifically in Syria and Iraq. And the role of Russia will be very important,” he said.

In 2014, the international community’s attention will be riveted to the Palestinian-Israeli problem, especially their talks on the final status of Palestine.

Naumkin believes that “the probability that an agreement can be reached in the remaining six months [of the nine-month period starting from the end of July 2013] is very low.”

“Many say that an interim agreement can be reached and the issues of refugees and Jerusalem will be postponed. But this means that no result will be reached,” the expert said, adding that “the situation will not favour the Palestinians until consensus is reached among them.”

Direct Palestinian-Israeli talks resumed in late July after an almost three-year break. The sides have held at least 16 meetings since then but with no progress on any of the issues discussed.

Palestinian Liberation Organisation Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo, the closest aide to Mahmoud Abbas, said that “the main factor that upsets progress at the talks is Israel’s refusal to stop settlement activities [in the West Bank and East Jerusalem]” and stressed that further construction of settlements “ruins the slightest chance for a peace agreement.”

Abdou Salam Diallo, Committee Chairman, recalled 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.

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,” Rabbo said.

The European Union condemned Israel’s plans to build new settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

“The EU has repeatedly stated that settlements are illegal under international law and that bold and decisive leadership is needed for the current peace negotiations to succeed,” Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said in early November.

“The EU deplores the latest settlement announcement and calls on the Israeli government to reverse its decision. Any actions that could hamper or undermine the on-going negotiations must be avoided,” Ashton said.

Prior to that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also reiterated his country’s positions that Israeli settlements were “illegitimate.”

“Let me emphasise at this point the position of the United States of America on the settlements is that we consider now and have always considered the settlements to be illegitimate… The United States has said that they believe the settlements are not helpful and are illegitimate,” he said.

On November 3, the Israeli authorities announced tenders for 1,859 settlement units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel plans to build 3,700 new houses there.

Palestinian 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,” PLO leader Yasser Abed Rabbo said.

In August, Israel’s Interior Ministry 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.

Direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians got 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.

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