Mideast Ennui: PLO Officials Refuse Talks, Blame Israel
PLO officials went on the offensive and sought to blame Israel for the failure of exploratory contacts with Israeli negotiators as they met with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Wednesday.
The meeting comes as Ashton visits the region for three days in a bid to keep the meetings from stalling. Israeli officials have already agreed to extend the meetings in hopes of a break-through, but PLO officials are adamant the talks are at an end.
Former PLO negotiator Nabil Shaath told Ashton that a 21 point proposal presented by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "lacked any detail" and was "rather a composition about peace done by a high school student."
President Abbas also dismissed Netanyahu's proposal as "worthless" and said the main obstacles to resuming negotiations are "Israeli settlements, above all in Jerusalem, and settler violence against Palestinian communities."
PLO official Hanan Ashrawi told Ashton, "With the escalation of settlement activities in and around Jerusalem, the arbitrary arrests of Palestinian representatives and lawmakers, continued annexation of Palestinian land and natural resources, and the eviction and deportation of Palestinians, Israel is thwarting all efforts to resume talks and to honor its obligations under international humanitarian law.
Ashrawi's comments come amid other statements from Palestinian officials declaring that exploratory peace talks in Amman have ended due to what they describe as "Israeli intransigence."
Israeli officials say PA officials are playing "the blame game" while using a raft of preconditions as a fait accompli to forestall talks.
PA officials insist Israel agree to the indefensible pre-1967 lines as borders for a future PA state, release all Arab terrorists from its prisons, and halt construction in the 'disputed territories' before negotiations can begin.
Observers note that a previous 10-month building freeze aimed at meeting PA demands was not only rebuffed, but answered with both new preconditions and a unilateral statehood bid at the United Nations in violation of the 1993 Oslo Accords.
They also note that while Israel does not build in areas under PA administrative control, the PA continues to underwrite a mass project of illegal construction in areas of Judea and Samaria under full Israeli administrative control.
Nonetheless, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said he is ready to enter formal negotiations without preconditions from either side "anytime, anywhere."
The exploratory talks in Amman came as part of a proposal by the Quartet of Middle East mediators - the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations - which set a three-month deadline last October for the two sides to make proposals on issues of territory and security.
The aim, widely panned by analysts as having no correlation to reality, is to reach a peace deal by the end of this year.
Ashton is expected to demand Israeli confidence-building measures towards the PA, including freeing some prisoners and removing more security check-points in Judea and Samaria.
However, critics say Ashton is not likely to ask PA officials to make reciprocal gestures towards Israel, raising questions as to whether she is an honest broker and that she is naive about Ramallah's true intentions.
In December 2011 PLO officials admitted they were no longer interested in a bilateral agreement with Israel and were, instead, adopting "a strategy based on continuous efforts along with the international community to secure full recognition and full United Nations membership, pursuing internal reconciliation, and keeping up the popular resistance."