Palestinians sit tight, count down to end of talks

Report
from Agence France-Presse
Published on 23 Nov 2013

11/23/2013 03:39 GMT

by Selim SAHEB ETTABA

RAMALLAH, November 23, 2013 (AFP) - Seeking to avoid taking the fall for failed Middle East peace talks, the Palestinians are simply sitting out the nine-month period of negotiations before they can resume legal action against Israel.

Israel's settlement building on land Palestinians want for their future state has in the past 10 days prompted Palestinian negotiators to present their resignation, amid calls by officials to sue the Jewish state over its illegal construction.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas told AFP his side is committed to the full period of talks agreed with Washington which will end around April.

"Regardless of what happens on the ground... we are committed and we will go to the full nine months, and then we will take the appropriate decision," he said.

Abbas hinted at what that "decision" might be.

"We agreed to freeze all action at the UN in exchange for Israel's release of all the prisoners," he said in reference to 104 inmates, mostly jailed before the 1993 Oslo peace accords, 52 of whom Israel has freed as part of the US-brokered negotiations.

Other Palestinian officials have been much more vocal about the "decision" -- they will pursue legal action against Israel's settlements.

"Israel is defying even the Americans, whom it promised to slow settlement construction. Not only has it not done that, but it's actually stepped up settlement building. For this reason, we have to go to the UN," said Palestine Liberation Organisation executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi.

"My opinion is that we should have gone to the UN before US Secretary of State John Kerry launched talks.

"We should have applied for membership of these agencies and international treaties to guarantee our rights. We should hurry up and do that, and at least file complaints," she said.

The Palestinians agreed, before starting the peace talks in July, not to go to international courts and UN bodies over Israeli settlement construction inside the occupied West Bank.

Israel has during the peace talks announced thousands of new settler homes in the West Bank, often coinciding with the release of prisoners, in moves designed to assuage the Israeli public and hardline ministers who oppose the talks.

The moves have angered the Palestinian negotiation team, which in November presented its resignation to Abbas.

'We'll do what we want'

Abbas refused to accept the resignation, in a move commentators say is designed to avoid responsibility for the failure of talks.

"There are many actions aimed at forcing us to shut the door, so (the Israelis) can say: the Palestinians do not want peace -- now we'll do what we want," said Elias Sanbar, the Palestinian envoy to UNESCO.

During talks that brought about the 1993 Oslo accords, Sanbar explained, "The Americans laid down one rule -- that whoever gets up and leaves the table will be held responsible."

"The situation is similar today. The Palestinians will have to grin and bear it for the full nine months."

After that period, legal action against Israel through bodies like the International Criminal Court will resume with gusto, according to Gershon Baskin, founder of the Israel Palestine Centre for Research and Information.

"Breakdowns, threats of leaving the table, the resignation of negotiators -- these are all common tactics employed in negotiations, particularly those with a set time to them," Baskin wrote in the Jerusalem Post.

"The last days, hours, even minutes on the ticking clock are the best moment to squeeze additional concessions from your opponent before signing on the dotted line."

But "there are very few people on both sides who can imagine success from the negotiations".

Once the Palestinians return to legal action, "the main arena will be the United Nations and its many agencies and institutions".

The Palestinians cast their first UN vote on November 18, just under a year after gaining upgraded status as a non-member observer state.

Most of the 193 members of the General Assembly applauded Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour as he voted for a judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

"This is an important step in our march for freedom and independence and full membership of the United Nations," Mansour told the assembly.

"I think that this is a very, very special moment in the history of the struggle of the Palestinian people at the United Nations," he told reporters.

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