Talks lead to nothing new: ‘Wide gap’ remains between Israelis, Palestinians
RAMALLAH - A wide gap remains between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators after three rounds of exploratory talks in Jordan, a Palestinian official close to the discussions said Sunday.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a third meeting on Saturday under the auspices of Jordan and the peacemaking Quartet made clear the gulf between the two sides.
"The third meeting held in Amman in the presence of the Jordanian foreign minister didn't produce anything new," the official said.
"There is still a wide gap between us on all positions because the Israeli side has not presented anything new and continues to hinder the resumption of negotiations," he added.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat met his Israeli counterpart Yitzhak Molcho on Saturday evening for a third round of discussions about the possibility of resuming negotiations that have been on hold since late September 2010.
The meetings have been organised under the auspices of Jordan and the international Quartet, comprising the United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia, which is trying to kickstart talks.
The Quartet has called on both sides to present comprehensive proposals on borders and security before January 26, with a view to resuming talks shortly afterwards, but so far only the Palestinians have done so.
Israel has called for direct talks to begin immediately and without preconditions, but the Palestinians say they will not talk without a settlement freeze and a clear framework for negotiations.
On Sunday, Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was considering submitting proposals on borders and security in March.
The newspaper said Netanyahu hoped to extend the current round of talks in Amman, culminating with a summit between him and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, after which he would submit Israel's proposals.
The plan is unlikely to win favour with the Palestinians, who have made it clear that without progress in the form of Israel's proposals, a settlement freeze and parameters for talks, they will not continue meeting beyond January 26.
Yediot also reported that the two sides had agreed to hold their next round of talks on January 25, an assertion disputed by the Palestinian official, who insisted there was "no agreement" on the date for the next talks.
Israel has sought to portray the discussions in Amman as a way into new direct negotiations, a characterisation the Palestinians have rejected.
They say Israel must halt settlement construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank and agree to use the lines that existed before the 1967 Six Day War as the basis for negotiations before they will agree to direct talks.
Abbas is expected to repeat those demands during a European tour he begins on Sunday, heading first to London, then on to Germany and Russia.
On Sunday, Israel's strategic affairs minister Moshe Yaalon accused the Palestinians of trying to scupper peace talks.
"The Netanyahu government has always said that it is ready to sit at the table and discuss these subjects," he told Israeli public radio.
"The one who is endlessly trying to get out of it... is Abu Mazen (Abbas). He is endlessly adding preconditions and we're not willing to accept that."
"Of course we are not ready to start with the border and security arrangements," he added.