Palestinians criticise US U-turn on settlements


THE PALESTINIAN Authority yesterday rejected the Obama administration’s call for unconditional resumption of negotiations with Israel and castigated the US for dropping its demand for a freeze on Israeli settlement construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Following meetings with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, and Israeli premier Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said that Israel’s refusal to agree to a settlement freeze, initially demanded by the Obama administration, should not be an obstacle to negotiations. She observed that Israel was proposing “unprecedented” concessions by offering to restrain growth in settlements in the West Bank.

Mr Netanyahu has said he would complete construction on 3,000 housing units in the West Bank over the next nine months but has refused to accept limits in East Jerusalem. Israel’s Peace Now movement says the average number of housing units Israel constructs every year is 1,400.

Mrs Clinton’s words amounted to a blow to Mr Abbas, who called the US position “illogical”. He has renounced armed resistance for negotiations as the means to achieve a state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinian Authority media chief Ghassan Khatib expressed disappointment over the new position adopted by the US. He said: “The American administration [had] been making efforts to convince Israel to freeze settlement activity in order to be able to broach a meaningful peace process.” He said negotiating in parallel with settlement activity had failed.

“The Palestinians are trying to avoid repeating [this] mistake . . . conducting negotiations while settlement expansion is taking place would be like an indirect encouragement and a legitimisation of illegal settlement activity.”

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat argued that Israel was pre-empting the outcome of negotiations by creating “facts on the ground” although, under the 2003 road map peace plan Israel is obliged to freeze settlements. He called on the US, EU and UN to make certain that Israel honours its obligations.

Nabil Abu Rudainah, a spokesman for Mr Abbas, asserted: “The negotiations are in a state of paralysis. The result of Israel’s intransigence and America’s back-pedalling is there is no hope of negotiations on the horizon.”

Palestinian and Arab commentators who had welcomed President Obama’s call for change and for engagement with the Muslim world issued during his June address in Cairo, expressed disillusionment with the US administration. Mrs Clinton is likely to receive a chilly welcome today when she meets Arab counterparts in Morocco.