October 26, 2009
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are unlikely to resume in the near future, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Monday, blaming Israel for the impasse and urging Washington to do the same.
"The gap is still wide and Israel does not give a single sign of meeting its obligations under the road map, halting settlement activities and resuming negotiations where they left off," he told Voice of Palestine radio.The U.S.-backed peace "road map" of 2003, which charts a course to Palestinian statehood, commits Israel to halting settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.
"I do not see any possibility for restarting peace talks in the near future," he said, in an assessment echoed by Israeli government officials.
"If President (Barack) Obama's administration cannot make Israel abide by its commitments, it has to announce that Israel is the party that is obstructing the launching of peace negotiations," Erekat said, referring to the road map agreements.Resisting U.S. pressure to comply, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ruled out a complete cessation of construction within settlements, saying the needs of growing settler families must be accommodated.
Israel also accuses Palestinians of failing to meet their road map commitments to curb violence and incitement against Israel, notably by Hamas Islamists who control the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, would return to the region on Wednesday to continue his efforts to revive peace talks.
Barak said that Netanyahu would apparently meet Obama in the second week of November, when the Israeli leader is due to address an American Jewish group in Washington.
"We intend to do our best to bring about the opening of significant negotiations with the Palestinians as soon as possible. This is important, necessary and, I would say, urgent," Barak told legislators from his Labour Party.LAND FOR PEACE
Netanyahu has rejected Palestinian demands to abide by what they said were land-for-peace understandings reached with his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, in a year of negotiations that followed a U.S.-sponsored peace conference in November 2007.
Israeli government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said talks with the Palestinians were unlikely in the coming months.
They expressed doubt Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas could show flexibility toward Israel before planned Palestinian elections in January, opposed by Hamas. Netanyahu has called on Abbas to resume negotiations immediately without preconditions.
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave Obama a less-than-glowing assessment of peace efforts.
Her report followed separate meetings in Washington between Mitchell and Israeli and Palestinian negotiators aimed at restarting direct talks suspended since December.
Few analysts believe there is a high risk of Palestinian frustration turning into a new uprising of the kind seen in the years of Intifada from 2000. However, clashes between youths and Israeli police around Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque, most recently on Sunday, have aroused concerns about instability.
October 25, 2009
Israeli police stormed Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque compound on Sunday, hurling stun grenades at Palestinians who threw rocks at them, in another outbreak of violence at the holy city's most sensitive site.
A Palestinian Red Crescent medic said 18 Palestinians were injured. Police reported that three officers were hurt.
The unrest, following a similar incident a month ago, did not appear to herald any immediate slide into widespread violence that could disrupt U.S.-led efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, suspended since December.
But the confrontation between Israeli police in riot gear and rock-throwing Muslims alarmed by rumors that right-wing Jews planned to enter the site was a reminder that Jerusalem remains a cauldron of heated religious and political passions.
At the nearby Qalandiya checkpoint into the occupied West Bank, a Palestinian woman stabbed and lightly wounded an Israeli security officer, police said. She was arrested.
Police, who also used tear gas in the Jerusalem clashes, did not go into al-Aqsa mosque, situated on al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), regarded by Muslims as the third-holiest site after the cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
The compound is revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, where the two destroyed biblical temples once stood. Israel captured the site in a 1967 war, along with the rest of East Jerusalem, which it annexed, and adjoining parts of the West Bank.
Police said the violence began after Palestinians threw stones at officers on patrol in the area. Police then rushed onto the compound behind riot shields, using stun grenades and batons to repel protesters, who retreated into the mosque.
During the clash, dozens of young Arab men threw rocks, lumps of masonry and water tanks from the roofs of houses at police in the narrow alleyways around the mosque compound, which overlooks the Western Wall, Judaism's key place of prayer.
A police spokesman said 16 people were arrested and that calm had largely returned to the area, several hours after the clashes erupted and police reinforcements deployed across East Jerusalem. Tourists continued to walk through the Old City and Jewish prayers at the Western Wall were held as normal.
Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, condemned "the storming of Haram al-Sharif by Israeli forces." He called on the international community "to put pressure on Israel...and prevent tension in the region."
Internal Palestinian tensions have also risen over a decision by the Western-backed Abbas on Friday to push ahead with presidential and parliamentary elections on January 24 in the absence of a unity deal with the rival Hamas Islamist group.
Hamas, which won a 2006 election, suggested it may hold its own ballot in the Gaza Strip, territory it seized in fighting with forces loyal to Abbas's Fatah movement in 2007.
Palestinians have been united in their concern that Israel is tightening its grip on the Old City and Arab East Jerusalem.
Israel views all of Jerusalem as its capital, a claim that has not been recognized internationally, and has said construction for Jewish housing would continue there despite Palestinian and international calls for a settlement freeze.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they hope to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Ghassan Khatib, head of the Palestinian government press office, voiced concern over "dangerous Israeli provocations" in Jerusalem, which he said included restrictions on the entry of Muslim worshippers to al-Aqsa compound.
Israeli security forces control access to the area and regularly prohibit young Muslim men from entering the stone esplanade in the walled Old City, citing security concerns.
Diplomats have said that some tensions have been raised by factional disputes among Muslim groups using the mosque compound, with some local Islamic leaders challenging the authority of established clerics.
A Palestinian uprising erupted nine years ago after then-Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon toured the site.