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Jan 21, 2010

Accusations mark start of new Mideast peace round

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Jan 21 (Reuters) – Israel and the Palestinians belittled each other’s commitment to peace as U.S. envoy George Mitchell began a fresh attempt on Thursday to break the deadlock and get them talking to each other again.

In an inauspicuous start to his first shuttle diplomacy visit of 2010 after a dozen fruitless trips last year, Mitchell’s arrival was clouded by tough statements from both sides accusing the other of cynicism.

Mitchell, as usual, said little and there was no immediate clue as to whether the public rhetoric might mask a more positive atmosphere in closed-door talks, first with Israelis in Jerusalem and then on Friday with the Palestinians in Ramallah.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had on Wednesday "imposed further conditions on negotiations and announced Israel’s intention to continue its occupation" of the West Bank whatever happens.

"Benjamin Netanyahu has said ‘No’ to a settlement freeze, ‘No’ to sharing Jerusalem, ‘No’ to the 1967 borders, ‘No’ to the rights of Palestinian refugees. Now he wants to retain the Jordan Valley," Erekat said in a statement. He was referring to a comment by Netanyahu that Israel would retain military control around any future Palestinian state that included the West Bank.

"We had hoped to hear a clear commitment to negotiations without preconditions. What we got instead was Mr Netanyahu again trying to dictate their terms and preempt their outcome," Erakat said.

Addressing the foreign press late on Wednesday, Netanyahu attacked the Palestinian leadership for rejecting U.S. calls to relaunch negotiations suspended for over a year.

"The Palestinians have climbed up a tree," he said. "And they like it up there. People bring ladders to them. We bring ladders to them. The higher the ladder, the higher they climb."


Diplomats say Mitchell seems to be seeking a face-saving way for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to drop his insistence that Netanyahu must stop all settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem before negotiations can be resumed.

Netanyahu’s premiership at the head of a right-wing coalition got off to a rough start 10 months ago with the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama.

When Mitchell first visited, the Israeli leader was refusing even to talk about establishing a Palestinian state. But last June he embraced the "two-state solution" and in November he ordered a partial 10-month halt to settlement building.

Western diplomats say Washington now seems increasingly frustrated with Abbas. One, speaking privately, said Abbas "as the weaker partner" was now the focus of U.S. efforts to stir the peace process back to life.

There was an "implicit threat" of cuts in U.S. aid to the West Bank if Abbas held out, he said.

Abbas hinted last week at a possible way out of the impasse, if Washington framed the talks in such a way as to set an "endgame", with the goal of a Palestinian state within a couple of years, or to define the parameters of the deal.

But Israel says that would prejudge the negotiations. (Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Paul Taylor)

Jan 4, 2010

Abbas weighs summit to revive stalled peace talks

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signaled on Monday he is weighing a proposal to relaunch stalled Middle East peace talks at a U.S.-backed summit with the Israeli and Egyptian leaders early in the new year.

But his decision on the idea, floated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will depend on learning what a high-level meeting might yield, Abbas said after talks in Egypt with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Dec 22, 2009

Russia says stalled Mideast talks need extra push

SWEIMAH, Jordan (Reuters) – Russia on Tuesday said it planned to become more involved in resolving the Middle East conflict along with the European Union and the United States.

Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov, who is President Dmitry Medvedev’s envoy to the region, told a conference in Jordan that new efforts were needed to break the deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians.

Dec 21, 2009

Status quo won’t hold, warn Middle East experts

DEAD SEA, Jordan (Reuters) – Efforts to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict are at a dangerous standstill and in need of a rescue mission that goes beyond U.S. mediation, speakers at a Russian-sponsored debate said on Monday.

At a conference on the Jordan shore of the Dead Sea, they warned that Israeli and United States bids to re-launch peace talks that have been suspended for one year would yield nothing if both sides still “have a veto” on the resolution.

Dec 2, 2009

Israel strips more Palestinians of Jerusalem status

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel stripped Palestinians of Jerusalem residency status last year at a faster rate than at any time in the history of the Jewish state, an Israeli rights group said on Wednesday, citing official Israeli statistics.

“Revocation of residence has reached frightening proportions,” said Dalia Kerstein, executive director of Israel’s HaMoked Center for the Defense of the Individual.

Nov 19, 2009

Does sinking Mideast peace process hold any hope?

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Efforts to rescue the sinking Middle East peace process are losing support.

Influential U.S. pundits have lost faith. Those Israelis who never did believe in it are saying: we told you so.

Nov 16, 2009

U.S. “would veto” Palestinian state move: Senators

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The United States would veto a Palestinian declaration of statehood in the United Nations Security Council, U.S. senators visiting Israel said Monday.

They said the threat by Palestinian officials to take the issue to a United Nations resolution was a waste of time and would go nowhere. They urged Arab states to stop it. “It would be D.O.A. – dead on arrival,” Democratic Party Senator Ted Kaufman (DE) told a news conference in Jerusalem. “It’s a waste of time.”

Nov 10, 2009

Palestinian vote, Abbas threat might be a bluff

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Voter registration for a Palestinian election failed to get under way as scheduled on Tuesday, adding to signs that President Mahmoud Abbas might be bluffing about a make-or-break vote in January.

If that turned out to be the case, he may also be bluffing about quitting the presidency. His real aims may be to repair badly damaged Palestinian unity and to bolster American support for his position in peace talks with Israel.

Nov 9, 2009

WITNESS: Strangers united in a euphoric moment

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Everyone had wanted it but no-one had predicted it, and when it happened no one could quite believe it.

East Germany had stunned itself and the world by suddenly letting its people cross the Wall to the West.

Nov 6, 2009

No takers for Abbas’ Palestinian presidency

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Younger Palestinian leaders were in no rush on Friday to step into the shoes of President Mahmoud Abbas after he said he did not want to run for re-election in January.

Making clear Abbas’ Fatah movement is, so far, unwilling to take the 74-year-old president at his word, none of the men seen as potential successors threw his hat into the ring after Abbas’s announcement on Thursday.