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20 Jul, 2013 12:23

Israelis and Palestinians still at odds over many issues ahead of talks

Israelis and Palestinians still at odds over many issues ahead of talks

Israel will not bow to Palestinian demands that negotiations must be based on their 1967 borders as Netanyahu insists that resuming peace talks is in Israel’s own best interests.

Remarks made by the Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon and the Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz suggest that both sides still face serious challenges before negotiations can resume.

Israel “had insisted it would enter negotiations with no preconditions which included the Palestinian demand on the 1967 borders, and that is exactly what is happening now,” said Yaalon.

While Steinitz also said that there had been no concessions from Israel on that point or on the Palestinian demand that Israel stop the building of settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

“There is no chance that we will agree to enter any negotiations that begin with defining territorial borders or concessions by Israel, nor a construction freeze,” he said.

The Palestinians insist that talks must be about establishing a future state on the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and in East Jerusalem, and that Israel’s borders must approximate to those that existed before the 1967 war.

A senior Palestinian official suggested that they would not back

“Our position remains clear: resumption of negotiations should be based on the two-state solution and on the 1976 borders,” said the official.

However, another official, who is a close aide of the Palestinian leader and privy to internal discussions, told AP that the US stipulated that both sides must refrain from taking any steps that would jeopardize the outcome of the talks. He said Israel is not to issue new tenders for Jewish settlements in the West Bank, while the Palestinians are not to pursue diplomatic action against Israel at any international organizations.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to brief the media.

Palestinian demonstrators shout slogans holding placards during a protest outside Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa mosque in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails (AFP Photo / Ahmad Gharabli)

The US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the deal to start negotiations was still being hammered out, but that talks could begin in Washington within the next week or so.

While the details of the agreement have yet to be finalized, Hamas has refused outright to take part in the negotiations.

“Hamas rejects Kerry's announcement of a return to talks and considers the Palestinian Authority's return to negotiations with the occupation to be at odds with the national consensus,” a senior spokesman for the Palestinian political party Hamas told AFP on Friday.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the apparent progress, but didn't give any details about how the talks would proceed with both sides remaining firm over their respective positions.

“The resumption of the peace process at this time is a vital strategic interest of Israel. It is important in itself to try and end the conflict between us and the Palestinians and it is important in the light of the challenges we face from Iran and Syria,” he said in statement on Saturday.

US Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas on July 19, 2013 at the Mukataa compound, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AFP Photo / Fadi Aroudi)

However, the Israeli lawmaker Tzachi Hanegbi and a confidante of Netanyahu suggested that the US may have found a formula that would allow talks to progress by avoiding the 1967 border issue.

“The talks should be possible when both sides feel that have not conceded their basic positions. The Americans are entitled to say whatever they want. For instance, they could say that they think the talks should be based on the 1967 borders, but that this does not bind us,” Hanegbi told Israel Radio.

The Palestinians have also demanded that Israel free prisoners held since before 1993, when the two sides signed the Oslo Accords, designed to lead to a Palestinian state.

“In all meetings held by President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) with Secretary Kerry and others, the Palestinian demand to release the prisoners topped the agenda. Freeing prisoners is a Palestinian priority that should precede any agreement,” said Nabil Abu, a spokesman for President Abbas.

The Israelis have said that there will be some release of prisoners but that it will be only after negotiations are underway.

“There will be some release of prisoners. I don’t want to give numbers but there will be heavyweight prisoners who have been in jail for tens of years. It will not be simple, but we will make that gesture,” Steinetz told Radio Israel.

There are 103 pre-Oslo prisoners in Israel, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Club, an organization that looks after the interests of inmates and their families.

'Bad blood'

The Israeli settlements have come under fire recently, with the EU recently announcing that they would discontinue any financial support to the settlements in the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights as part of a new law.

The new regulation came into effect on Friday and will “make a distinction between the state of Israel and the occupied territories when it comes to EU support.”

Israel reacted sharply, with senior officials condemning the move as an “earthquake directive” that would endanger all realms of co-operation and encourage “bad blood” between the EU and Israel.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the EU to stay out of Israeli affairs and concentrate on more pressing issues in the region like “civil war in Syria, or Iran's race to obtain a nuclear weapon.”