PA's FM: Construction Freeze 'Vital' to Peace Talks
The Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister, Riyad al-Malki, said Saturday that halting Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria was "vital" to resuming long-stalled peace talks, according to AFP.
"For us, stopping settlement construction is vital, important and essential to really sit down and talk about the subject of negotiations," Malki said.
"Without this, it will be difficult, if not impossible to find a Palestinian interested in sitting down and talking with the Israelis.
"It is not a Palestinian condition. It is a requirement by the international community," he added, according to AFP.
Malki was speaking in Spanish to reporters during a press conference in Panama City as he wrapped up a tour of Central America. On Friday Malki was present as El Salvador established diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry plans to make his fourth trip to Israel and the PA on May 21 or 22 for talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Kerry, along with "all international leaders as well as the Israelis, knows that any potential to resume negotiations requires first that Israeli completely stop all settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian territories," Malki said, according to AFP.
He noted that Kerry had "taken the responsibility to talk to the Israelis to find a solution to the conflict." Malki said the chief U.S. diplomat had spoken five times with Abbas during the past month and a half.
Direct peace talks collapsed shortly after they were launched in September 2010 because Abbas refused to talk to Netanyahu, despite the fact that Israel imposed a ten-month construction freeze under U.S. pressure.
In his latest precondition, Abbas recently told Kerry that Israel should freeze construction in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem and release terrorist prisoners, especially those arrested before the 1993 Oslo Accords, before any resumption of peace talks.
Last week, Israel approved construction of 296 new homes in Beit El, raising the ire of the PA. The PLO’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, slammed Thursday’s move, saying it sent a clear message to Washington that Israel was not interested in resuming the frozen direct talks.
The United States warned Israel that plans to build in Beit El were "counterproductive”, while the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton claimed that Israeli building projects in Judea and Samaria “increased tensions on the ground and risk undermining current efforts to re-launch peace talks.”
Malki also condemned on Saturday the twin car bombs that killed at least 43 people and wounded 100 earlier in a Turkish town near the Syrian border. Ankara has blamed the attack on pro-Damascus groups.
"We condemn theses attacks, no matter who is responsible. We must condemn them with the strongest language and with as much force as possible," Malki said, according to AFP.
"You cannot resolve conflicts and problems by sacrificing the lives of innocent people," he added.
He speculated that the perpetrators of the attacks may have sought to prevent the holding of an international conflict on the long-running civil war in Syria.