Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud AbbasAFP photo

Fatah - the party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the dominant faction within the PA - has effectively torpedoed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's plan for restarting negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, a report by AFP indicates.

According to the report, Fatah officials demanded on Thursday that changes be made to Kerry's Middle East peace plan, following a meeting in Ramallah. The move means it is likely the PA will also reject the plan.

"Fatah wants to make some alterations to Kerry's plan... because the proposed ideas are not encouraging for a return to negotiations," a top official from Fatah said.

"The central committee is demanding, for a return to talks... that Kerry announce they should be based on the 1967 lines," said Amin Maqbul, secretary general of the ruling Fatah movement's Revolutionary Council.

The vote came after two rounds of intensive talks between Kerry and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday and Wednesday, in which they thrashed out the plan. Abbas is also Fatah's leader.

It was the top US diplomat's sixth visit to the region in as many months to try to broker a compromise formula to allow a resumption of direct peace talks after a three-year hiatus.

Israel had rejected Palestinian demands for a publicly declared freeze to all settlement construction in Judea and Samaria as a condition to resume talks, and Abbas and his negotiating team had referred those terms to the Palestinian political leadership.

Palestinians want to "start negotiations from the finish line"

On Tuesday, Israeli Communications Minister Gilad Erdan accused the Palestinian Authority for precluding any peace talks by setting unreasonable preconditions. His main issue was that, by demanding an agreement on final borders before even beginning talks, the Palestinian Authority was trying to start negotiations "from the finish line."

The rejection by the leadership of Abbas's own Fatah movement of the blueprint meant that its planned referral to the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which also includes dissident factions, was unlikely to go ahead.

In a statement earlier today, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office denied that Israel had agreed to accept the 1949 armistice lines as the basis for renewed negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. Israeli officials had been quoted in earlier press reports as confirming the claim made by a top PA official.

“The report is untrue,” said Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev, who reportedly called the media organization originally responsible for the misinformation, which spread like wildfire.

The implications of that acceptance would entail an implicit Israeli agreement to surrender the vast majority of land liberated in the 1967 Six Day War, except for the lands needed for security purposes. In the past, the PA has demanded that Israel also give up on the idea of settlement blocs, and have demanded that cities such as Ariel be evacuated and surrendered as part of any final arrangement with Israel.

"No plans" to resume to talks

The US State Department acknowledged that Kerry's efforts had suffered a setback despite their endorsement by senior Arab diplomats.

"There are currently no plans for an announcement on the resumption of negotiations," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

Kerry had appeared to be making headway after IDF Radio said Israel was preparing to lift some restrictions on Arab movement in Judea and Samaria.

"It appears that in the next few days the future of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will be determined," IDF Radio's reporter for the Judea and Samaria said.

"In the light of security assessments, two roads in the territories are expected shortly to be opened to Palestinian traffic; one north of Ramallah and one close to Beit Haggai," he added, referring to a Jewish community near Hevron.

Kerry had been hopeful of progress on Wednesday, telling reporters after talks in Amman with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas that the gaps between Israel and the PA had “very significantly” narrowed. The secretary’s meetings with Arab League officials this week, he said, had also served to “provide the ground and a suitable environment to start negotiations.”