RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - A top Palestinian official said on Tuesday a framework agreement being crafted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to buttress troubled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks may be doomed to fail.
Nabil Abu Rdeineh, spokesman to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the deal due to be submitted to the two sides in the coming weeks would be “useless” if it allowed them to nominally accept its principles but to express reservations.
“Use of the word ‘reservations’ bogs down the peace process and the use of this concept in the past has got the process stuck,” Abu Rdeineh told Reuters.
In an interview with The Washington Post last week, Kerry said that enabling Israeli and Palestinian leaders to “have some objection” to drafted parameters “is the only way for them to politically be able to keep the negotiations moving”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads a governing coalition that includes a far-right party which could bolt over land-for-peace terms of any statehood deal with Palestinians.
Abbas also faces political pressure not to bend on issues at the core of the decades-old conflict, such as the fate of Palestinian refugees and future of Jerusalem.
Veterans of Abbas’s own Fatah party have been skeptical of his decision to restart talks with Israel, which resumed in July after a three-year break. Top officials have mooted a return to protests and even armed violence should they fail.
The U.S.-backed negotiations are scheduled to expire at the end of April. Washington has said the framework agreement would be a basis to prolong the talks, but Palestinian officials have yet to accept any extension.
Palestinians want a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel captured those areas in the 1967 war, and in 2005 pulled its troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip - land now hedged in by an Israeli blockade and run by Hamas Islamists opposed to Abbas’s peace efforts.
Abu Rdeineh cautioned against the Kerry document traversing any Palestinian “red lines”.
He said the framework agreement must clearly recognize the 1967 lines as the outline demarcating the two states, designate East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital and call Israel’s settlements on occupied land “illegal”, hardening Washington’s current description of them as “illegitimate”.
Over half a million Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Most countries consider the settlements illegal, a term disputed by Israel.
Failure to salvage the talks, which have yet to show signs of progress, may lead to a showdown between Israel and the Palestinians in international bodies. Israeli officials say boycotts and political isolation of their state may soon follow.
Setting conditions for a final peace deal, Netanyahu has ruled out a return to what he has termed “indefensible” pre-1967 war lines. He has also demanded a long-term Israeli security presence on the future eastern border of a Palestinian state and has called on Abbas to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
The Israeli leader is due to meet U.S. President Barack Obama next month in Washington, where they will discuss the negotiations along with U.S. efforts to ease tensions with Iran over its nuclear program.
Writing by Noah Browning, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Gareth Jones