Ashrawi urges Kerry to stand up to Israel as men freed to keep Palestinians in talks
The photos shown here are part of a set of six accompanying this article in The Independent.The article on the freed prisoners is followed by news of John Kerry’s reaction from Ha’aretz. 3, a succinct announcement from foreign office minister Alistair Burt.
Freed Palestinian prisoner Ateya Abu Moussa (3rd R), who was held by Israel for 20 years, hugs his father upon arriving at his family’s house in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Photo by Reuters.
Negotiations set to resume today despite anger over planned settlements in east Jerusalem
By Adam Withnall, The Independent
August 14, 2013
Israel has successfully released 26 Palestinian prisoners as part of a deal to keep US-sponsored peace talks alive, despite ongoing disagreements over plans to build more settlements on disputed land.
The handover took place in the dead of night during the small hours of Wednesday morning, with a small number of Palestinians hurling rocks at Israeli military vehicles escorting the prison convoy taking 11 to the West Bank.
They were met by a welcoming party of hundreds, including President Mahmoud Abbas. The other 15 ex-prisoners were taken to the Gaza strip, under the control of Mr Abbas’s Islamist rivals Hamas.
The president told a crowd in the West Bank capital Ramallah: “We congratulate ourselves and our families for our brothers who left the darkness of the prisons for the light of the sun of freedom. We say to them and to you that the remainder are on their way, these are just the first.”
After the successful return of the prisoners, many of whom had already served jail terms of around 20 years for deadly attacks on Israelis, negotiators were due to return to meetings in Jerusalem later on Wednesday.
Released Palestinian prisoner Burhan Sbeih kisses his mother at his home in the West Bank village of Kofr Raei near Jenin city after his release. Photo by AP.
Despite anger from the families of some victims, Israel has promised to free a total 104 inmates in the coming months, in measures aimed at meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry’s target of a deal within nine months.
Among those released was a Palestinian convicted in the 1994 killing of Isaac Rotenberg, a 69-year-old Holocaust survivor who was attacked with an axe as he was working at a construction site.
Others were convicted in the killings of Ian Feinberg, an Israeli lawyer killed in a European aid office in Gaza in 1993, and Frederick Rosenfeld, an American killed while hiking in the West Bank in 1989.
On Monday, Israel’s prison service published the names of the 26 in order to allow for possible appeals, but the Supreme Court quickly turned away objections from the families of those killed by the prisoners.
Earlier, Israel sparked anger when it announced it was moving forward with plans to build nearly 900 new settlement homes in east Jerusalem. The Palestinians initially refused to return to the negotiating table, until the prisoner release was offered as part of a bargain to restart talks.
They argue that even existing settlements, now home to more than 500,000 Israelis, make the problem of establishing territories increasingly difficult.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official, said the plans are “not just deliberate sabotage of the talks, but really a destruction of the outcome”.
She urged Mr Kerry “to stand up to Israel” and deliver a tough response.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rejected the Palestinian claim, saying: “The construction that the Israeli government authorised is all in Jerusalem and the large blocs, in areas that will remain part of Israel in any possible final status agreement and this construction that has been authorised in no way changes the final map of peace.”
Mr Kerry said he had spoken with Mr Netanyahu yesterday morning. “We had a very frank and open discussion on the issue of settlements,” he said. “Let me make it clear. The policy of the United States with respect to all settlements is that they are illegitimate and we oppose settlements taking place anytime.”
U.S. Secretary of State says he held ‘open and frank’ conversation with the Israeli premier, following announcement of new settlement construction.
By Barak Ravid and Reuters, Ha’aretz
August 13, 2013
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, trying to keep his Middle East peace initiative on track in the face of fresh controversy over Israeli settlements, said he had “frank and open” talks on the matter with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday.
In a telephone conversation with Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is leading the Israeli negotiating team vis-a-vis the Palestinians, Kerry expressed U.S. concerns over ongoing announcements regarding construction plans in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying they were not helpful to the negotiations with the Palestinians, which are slated to resume Wednesday.
At a press conference in Brazil on Tuesday, however, Kerry said he did not think the construction announcements would disrupt the talks.
According to a senior Israeli official and a senior American official, Kerry reminded Netanyahu and Livni during the phone conversation that Israel had promised to limit construction in the settlements during the nine planned months of talks with the Palestinians.
He said that while the United States had been appraised of the planned construction of 1,200 homes in the settlement blocs and East Jerusalem, the recent tender announcement for 900 apartments in Gilo and the advancement of plans to build hundreds of homes in isolated settlements had taken them by surprise.
Kerry called the Israeli leaders after receiving vehement protests about the construction announcements from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
At the press conference in Brazil alongside Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota, Kerry Kerry confirmed that he had spoken with Netanyahu and Livni, saying they had held an open and frank discussion regarding the settlements. Kerry said that the United States sees settlement construction as illegitimate and that he had made this clear to the Israeli government.
Kerry also said he believed Palestinian President Abbas “is committed to continue” peace talks with Israel.
Kerry’s remarks came just as Israel was preparing to release 26 Palestinian prisoners jailed before the signing of the Oslo Accords, as part of a goodwill gesture to jumpstart the peace process.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were to resume their talks on Wednesday in Jerusalem.
During that meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams, expected to take several hours, the parties will discuss the overall guidelines for the negotiations and their agenda, but are also expected to start presenting their positions on some of the issues.
The Israelis will be represented by Livni and Netanyahu’s special envoy, Isaac Molho. The Palestinian team will consist of chief negotiator Erekat and senior Fatah official Mohammed Shtayyeh. Also participating will be Martin Indyk, the special U.S. envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and his deputy, Frank Lowenstein. The two are expected to be in the negotiating room during most of the rounds of talks.
At the end of the day, the parties will decide whether they want to continue the talks immediately.
Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt condemns Israeli settlement announcement and calls for focus on negotiations.
Media release from FCO
August 09, 2013
Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said:
We condemn the recent decisions taken by the Israeli authorities to advance plans for 1096 settlement units in the West Bank, and to approve the construction of 63 new units in East Jerusalem. Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, undermine trust and threaten the viability of the two-state solution. The UK urges the Israeli authorities to reverse these decisions.
The focus now must be on resumed negotiating efforts between the parties towards a two-state solution, starting with negotiations on 14 August. We urge both parties to continue to show the bold and decisive leadership needed for these efforts to succeed, and to avoid steps that undermine negotiations. The need for progress is urgent: we firmly believe the current efforts can bring about the lasting peace that the people of the region deserve.