Livni Hints US Involvement Hindered, Rather Than Helped Talks
Israeli chief negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, called on Saturday for direct talks with Palestinian Authority, as attempts continue to prevent the collapse of peace negotiations.
Tzipi Livni's remarks came on the eve of a three-way meeting with her PA counterpart Saeb Erakat and US envoy Martin Indyk, officials close to the talks said. Indyk met the two separately Friday.
The developments come as US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that there were "limits" to the time and energy Washington could devote to the process, adding it was time for a "reality check."
He said Washington would review its push for a peace deal after the decision by the Palestinian Authority to take unilateral action in the UN, in breach of of the terms of the negotiations, threatened to derail talks completely.
Kerry, who has engaged in more than a year of intensive shuttle diplomacy, had spoken to both the Israeli and PA leaders Thursday in a bid to bring the two sides back from the brink.
US involvement - more hindrance than help?
But Livni told Channel 2 television that the "intensive" US involvement in the talks might have got in between the actual sides in conflict.
The Americans should remain involved but "as those who help negotiations and bilateral talks, rather than as their replacement," she said.
"I think we need to advance to more meetings and direct negotiations than there were till now, I think the Americans realize this as well," she said.
"We need bilateral meetings between us, including between the prime minister Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas)," she said.
Abbas has rejected Kerry's appeals to withdraw applications he signed on Tuesday to adhere to 15 international treaties, a PA official said.
Israel says Abbas's move is a clear breach of promises made by the PA when peace talks were relaunched in July to pursue no other avenues for recognition of their promised state.
PA demanded Israeli-Arab prisoner release
The Palestinian Authority says Israel had already reneged on its own commitments by failing to release a fourth and final batch of Arab prisoners last weekend, and that the treaty move was their response.
But Livni insisted on Saturday that the release was delayed only because of the PA demand that the prisoners to be freed include Arab Israelis convicted of terrorism.
That, she told Channel 2, would necessitate "a new framework".
"I clarified to the Americans and the Palestinians we wouldn't release Israeli prisoners unless it were under a different context," she said.
"That's why we wanted to create this (framework), which among other things included the extension of negotiations," she said.
Livni said the PA leadership "decided not to wait any longer" and went ahead with applications for international treaties - a move she described as "a violation and big mistake, that will make it difficult to get back to a normal state of affairs."
Livni stressed, however, that Israel would continue peace efforts, since "the current condition isn't one we can sustain".
"We don't have the privilege to just fume," she said. "In the end, a Palestinian state will be established through negotiations."
Jewish Home 'determined to torpedo talks'
A frustrated Livni also took aim at Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home), who she accused of deliberately issuing 700 building tenders in the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo in order to 'torpedo' talks.
She said that although the lion's share of the blame for crumbling talks lay at the doorstep of the PA, issuing building permits for Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem meant that "the whole world will blame us".
Livni also accused Jewish Home leader and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett of "waiting for the moment" to prevent an agreement.
A "construction freeze" for Jewish towns and neighborhoods in Judea and Samaria was not one of the terms of negotiations; however, PA officials have regularly threatened to walk away from talks if Israel refused to stop building in Jewish areas.
A last-minute agreement between the US and Israel to extend talks reportedly included a near-total building freeze, but the PA rejected it in favor of taking unilateral steps - in violation of the terms of the current talks as well as previous treaties it signed with Israel.
AFP contributed to this report.