Talks resume as Israel frees Palestinians, pursues settlements

JERUSALEM Wed Aug 14, 2013 6:02pm EDT

1 of 11. Freed Palestinian prisoner Midhat Barbakh (C) arrives to visit his parents' graves at a cemetery in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip August 14, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli and Palestinian negotiators reconvened U.S.-brokered peace talks in Jerusalem on Wednesday amid little fanfare and low expectations, dogged by plans for more Jewish settler homes on occupied land.

An Israeli official, who declined to be named and who was briefed on the talks that were held at an undisclosed Jerusalem location, described them as serious and said the parties agreed to meet again soon.

No details were given on the subject matter of the talks. The parties have agreed to refrain from revealing information in order to raise the chances for success, officials said.

The resumption of negotiations, after a first round in Washington last month that ended a three-year stand-off over Jewish settlement building, followed Palestinian celebrations overnight as Israel released 26 of their jailed brethren.

Optimism was in short supply before the first official meeting in Jerusalem, a holy city at the heart of their conflict, in nearly five years.

"Israel will resort to feints and evasion and put up impossible demands in order to say that these negotiations are fruitless and to continue its policy of stealing land as it has done until this moment," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian official tasked by President Mahmoud Abbas to comment on the talks.

Israel has published plans for 3,100 new settler homes in recent days, drawing U.S. and other international concern and deepening Palestinian distrust.

Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief peace negotiator and justice minister, said on her Facebook page before the teams met: "Today, I will continue the important mission I began - to achieve a peace agreement that will keep the country Jewish and democratic and provide security ... for Israel and its citizens."

Israeli cabinet minister Yaakov Peri said a "long and exhausting trek" lay ahead. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has set a goal of nine months for an agreement to be reached.

"Both for the Palestinians and for us, the hourglass is running out. We will not have many more opportunities to resolve this dispute," Peri told Army Radio.

PRISONER RELEASE

In the small hours of Wednesday, Israel freed the 26 Palestinians jailed between 1985 and 2001, many for deadly attacks on Israelis. Their release, coupled with Abbas's dropping of a demand for a settlement freeze before talks could begin, helped to pave the way towards negotiations.

Joyous crowds, fireworks and V-for-Victory signs greeted the former prisoners in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The scenes did little to boost optimism in Israel about prospects for peace.

"I think that today is a sad day to start negotiating about peace with people who accepted murderers as heroes," said Erez Goldman, an Israeli resident of Jerusalem. "I cannot see that anyway these peace negotiations are going anywhere."

Few on either side see swift resolution to longstanding problems such as borders, settlements, the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

Yet neither Abbas nor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to attract blame for putting the brakes on U.S. attempts at peace, a product of Kerry's intensive shuttle diplomacy. Negotiations are set to continue every few weeks in venues including Jericho in the occupied West Bank.

Israel says it supports Kerry's nine-month timeline but in the past few days has rattled world powers by announcing its plans to increase its settlement of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas it captured along with the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israel quit Gaza in 2005 but wants to keep East Jerusalem and swathes of West Bank settlements, seeing them as a security bulwark and the realization of a Jewish birthright to biblical land. Most world powers deem the settlements illegal.

Nearly 600,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, among 2.5 million Palestinians.

Speaking to reporters in Brazil on Tuesday, Kerry said he had a "very frank and open, direct discussion" in a phone call with Netanyahu.

Kerry appeared to associate the new settlement announcements with internal Israeli politics, saying "there are realities of life in Israel that have to be taken into account here".

Such construction helps to mollify pro-settler factions in Netanyahu's rightist coalition government, one of which, the Jewish Home party, opposes Palestinian statehood and tried unsuccessfully to vote down the prisoner release.

Despite anger from the families of some victims, Israel has promised to free a total of 104 inmates in the next few months. Thousands of Palestinians, many of them convicted on security-related charges, remain in Israeli jails.

"I never expected to see him again. My feelings cannot be described in words. The joy of the whole world is with me," said Adel Mesleh, whose brother Salama Mesleh was jailed in 1993 for killing an Israeli. "I am happy he was freed as a result of negotiations. Negotiations are good."

(Additional reporting by Ori Lewis and Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Noah Browning, Ali Sawafta and Hamouda Hassan in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; editing by David Stamp, Will Waterman and Cynthia Osterman)

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Comments (21)
HemiHead66 wrote:
The only way Netanyahu will agree to peace is if the world starts treating Israel like North Korea & Iran. Lord knows Israel deserves it, the world has been playing their little games for over 40 years now. Sanctions are a must. Or maybe we can arm the Palestinians with the same kinds of weapons the U.S. gives Israel, and let them fight it out one more time.

Aug 14, 2013 4:48am EDT  --  Report as abuse
VultureTX wrote:
@hemihead
yes you support those supposed peace loving palestinians? The ones who in arabic media still call for the death of all Israelis, who still idolize terrorists who killed children in their beds, who claim that no jew will ever own land in Palestine (aka practice Apartheid)?

/and to top it off you want a nuclear war in the middle east. Strange sounds like you are the one who does not want peace. You must be a muslim.

Aug 14, 2013 9:36am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Reuters1945 wrote:
@HemiHead66

You seem to have it slightly backwards. To paraphrase your own words:

The only way the Palestinians will agree to a lasting peace is if the world starts treating Hamas like North Korea & Iran.

The entire world knows the rulers of Hamas deserve it.

The world has been playing their little games for over 40 years now.

Since Israel removed the last soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005, more than eight years ago, the Palestinians in Gaza have used Gaza as a launching pad to fire more than 14,000 (Fourteen Thousand) rockets and missiles across the border into Israel.

Hamas has proudly boasted, repeatedly, that its Palestinian followers will never recognize Israel’s “Right to exist” and furthermore are officially and publically Sworn to the total and final destruction of Israel.

Amazingly, the world has never said to the leaders of the Palestinians, which have received billions of dollars in aid from all the world’s nations:

“Either you cease firing rockets and missiles into Israel and agree to recognize Israel’s “Right to exist”, a fundamental International right of all nations, or your costly allowance will be frozen until you do so.”

There are 14,000 good reasons why Israel is forced to keep a close watch on the Palestinians in Gaza.

Please have the simple honesty and common decency to recall and admit that until 1967 there was not a single Jewish citizen living in the entire huge West Bank.

At any time the Arabs were free to establish a quite large independent Palestinian State in the Arab controlled West Bank and 46 years later it could have grown into a vastly prosperous, thriving nation with a high standard of living for millions of Palestinians, living side by side in Peace with all their neighbors.

Instead, in the weeks preceding June, 1967, the collective armies of numerous Arab nations, massed hundreds of thousands of troops and countless thousands of tanks on all sides of the relatively small country of Israel, openly declaring it was time to solve “The Jewish Problem” once and for all.

Israel’s only chance of survival was to strike a decisive powerful first blow, before the entire country was overrun and hundreds of thousands of Israelis were slaughtered- something the Arabs promised they would do.

But the war did not go as the Arabs were so certain it would and they were soundly defeated in just six days on every front.

The Arabs rolled the dice and lost.

And that is why there are now Israeli citizens residing in the West Bank.

You do not have to take my word that these are the facts as I have stated.

You can read it all in the many quoted statements of the Arab leaders at the time- in their own words.

The Arab Leaders, 1967- IN THEIR OWN WORDS

In the weeks leading up to the Six Day War, Arab leaders repeatedly threatened Israel with annihilation. Together with Egypt’s ejection of United Nations forces, the closing of the Straits of Tiran, and the massing of troops on Israel’s northern and southern borders, the fiery rhetoric created a state of existential fear in Israel.

Egypt

“Our aim is the full restoration of the rights of the Palestinian people. In other words, we aim at the destruction of the State of Israel. The immediate aim: perfection of Arab military might. The national aim: the eradication of Israel.” – President Nasser of Egypt, November 18, 1965

“Brothers, it is our duty to prepare for the final battle in Palestine.” – Nasser, Palestine Day, 1967

“Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight . . . The mining of Sharm el Sheikh is a confrontation with Israel. Adopting this measure obligates us to be ready to embark on a general war with Israel.” – Nasser, May 27, 1967

“We will not accept any … coexistence with Israel. … Today the issue is not the establishment of peace between the Arab states and Israel …. The war with Israel is in effect since 1948.” – Nasser, May 28, 1967

“The armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are poised on the borders of Israel . . . . to face the challenge, while standing behind us are the armies of Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan and the whole Arab nation. This act will astound the world. Today they will know that the Arabs are arranged for battle, the critical hour has arrived. We have reached the stage of serious action and not declarations.” – Nasser, May, 30, 1967 after signing a defense pact with Jordan’s King Hussein

“We are now ready to confront Israel …. The issue now at hand is not the Gulf of Aqaba, the Straits of Tiran, or the withdrawal of UNEF, but the … aggression which took place in Palestine … with the collaboration of Britain and the United States.” – Nasser, June 2, 1967

“Under terms of the military agreement signed with Jordan, Jordanian artillery coordinated with the forces of Egypt and Syria is in a position to cut Israel in two at Kalkilya, where Israeli territory between the Jordan armistice line and the Mediterranean Sea is only twelve kilometers wide … .” – El Akhbar newspaper, Cairo, May 31, 1967

Cairo Radio Statements:

May 19, 1967: “This is our chance Arabs, to deal Israel a mortal blow of annihilation, to blot out its entire presence in our holy land”
May 22, 1967: “The Arab people is firmly resolved to wipe Israel off the map”

May 25, 1967: “The Gulf of Aqaba, by the dictum of history and the protection of our soldiers, is Arab, Arab, Arab.”

May 25, 1967: “Millions of Arabs are … preparing to blow up all of America’s interests, all of America’s installations, and your entire existence, America.”

May 27, 1967: “We challenge you, Eshkol, to try all your weapons. Put them to the test; they will spell Israel’s death and annihilation.”

May 30, 1967: “With the closing of the Gulf of Akaba, Israel is faced with two alternatives either of which will destroy it; it will either be strangled to death by the Arab military and economic boycott, or it will perish by the fire of the Arab forces encompassing it from the South from the North and from the East.”

May 30, 1967: “The world will know that the Arabs are girded for battle as the fateful hour approaches.”

Jordan

“All of the Arab armies now surround Israel. The UAR, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan, and Kuwait. … There is no difference between one Arab people and another, no difference between one Arab army and another.” – King Hussein of Jordan, after signing the pact with Egypt May 30, 1967

Iraq

“The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified. This is our opportunity to wipe out the ignominy which has been with us since 1948. Our goal is clear – to wipe Israel off the map. We shall, God willing, meet in Tel Aviv and Haifa.” – President Abdel Rahman Aref of Iraq, May 31, 1967

Palestinians

“D-Day is approaching. The Arabs have waited 19 years for this and will not flinch from the war of liberation.” – Ahmed Shukairy, Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, May 27, 1967

“This is a fight for the homeland – it is either us or the Israelis. There is no middle road. The Jews of Palestine will have to leave. We will facilitate their departure to their former homes. Any of the old Palestine Jewish population who survive may stay, but it is my impression that none of them will survive.” – Shukairy, June 1, 1967

“We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants and as for the survivors – if there are any – the boats are ready to deport them.” – Shukairy, June 1, 1967, speaking at a Friday sermon in Jerusalem

Syria

Syria’s forces are “ready not only to repulse the aggression, but to initiate the act of liberation itself, and to explode the Zionist presence in the Arab homeland. The Syrian army, with its finger on the trigger, is united…. I as a military man, believe that the time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation.” – Syrian Defense Minister Hafez Assad, May 20, 1967

“Our two brotherly countries have turned into one mobilized force. The withdrawal of the UN forces … means ‘make way, our forces are on their way to battle.’” – Foreign Minister Makhous on his return from Cairo

Aug 14, 2013 9:44am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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