Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erakat said visible progress has to be made soon on Mideast peace talks because of growing frustration among Palestinians.
“If by the end of this year we have no two-state solution, you will sweat,” Erakat told Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister Daniel Meridor today.
Erakat shared a stage with Meridor today at the International Peace Institute in New York where they discussed the situation in Gaza, the decline of attacks on Israel out of the West Bank and the prospects for progress in peace talks.
“If there’s going to be an explosion, it will be because of the wall,” Erakat said, referring to an Israeli security barrier built to physically separate much of the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank from Israel.
Meridor said the decrease in terrorist attacks in Israel was largely due to the barrier. “The fact that we have no terror has a lot of reasons; the wall is one of them,” he said.
Meridor said he fears that U.S-brokered indirect peace talks can’t succeed and that Palestinians and Israelis must engage more directly.
“I hope they will succeed,” Meridor said of the negotiations led by U.S. special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell. “I’m afraid they in themselves cannot succeed, cannot substitute decisions that need to be taken on both sides,” Meridor said.
Erakat said Palestinians were ready for direct talks whenever Israel met certain conditions. “We have never said ‘no’ to direct negotiations,” Erakat said. “The minute” Israel agrees to stop settlement activities and other conditions for talks, “we will resume” them, Erakat said.
Israel and the Palestinians began U.S.-mediated indirect peace talks last month for the first time since December 2008, when Israel launched a military operation in the Hamas- controlled Gaza Strip that the Israelis said was intended to stop cross-border rocket attacks against its southern towns and cities.
Since the operation ended, more than 400 rockets and mortars have been fired from Gaza into Israel, killing one foreign worker, according to the Israeli army.
“We kicked all the Jews out” of Gaza, Israel’s Meridor said, referring to the Jewish state’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. “What was the result? We had rockets launched at us.”
Israel reacted by instituting a naval blockade of the Gaza territory in 2007 designed to prevent arms from reaching the militant Islamic group Hamas. Israel’s May 31 naval raid on a flotilla of aid ships trying to break the blockade left nine Turkish citizens dead. The subsequent international outcry prompted Israel to announce an easing of the blockade on June 21, allowing in all materials except military items and those that could aid Hamas’s military machine.
A majority of Israelis supported the raid.
Meridor said he approved of the decision. “I think it was the wrong policy,” he said. “I think we did good that we changed it.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected a June 22 call by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to begin direct peace talks. Abbas said Israel should first entirely lift its blockade on the Gaza Strip and enact a complete freeze on settlement building.
Hamas, which won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, ousted forces loyal to Abbas’s Fatah group and seized full control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, leaving Abbas in charge of the West Bank. Hamas is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union.
Israel instituted a freeze this year on settlement construction in the West Bank that doesn’t include public buildings or some 3,000 housing units that are already being built. It is scheduled to end in September.
The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported yesterday that Netanyahu declined to clarify when visiting Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann asked whether Israel would continue settlement construction in September.
Instead, Netanyahu said the government had to see how the political process progressed, Ha’aretz said. In an earlier meeting, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Faymann that he did not see any other option apart from resuming construction when the building freeze ends, Ha’aretz said.
Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Middle East War and later annexed it in a move that isn’t internationally recognized.
This week, the municipality of Jerusalem announced plans to raze 22 homes in an Arab neighborhood in east Jerusalem. The city, which plans to turn the area into a tourist park, says the homes were built illegally.