Ashton Insists Talks Continue

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton says talks between Israel and the PA must continue after Ramallah says January 26 will end talks.

Gabe Kahn. ,

Ashton on visit (file)
Ashton on visit (file)
Israel news photo: Flash 90

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Wednesday that informal talks between Israel and Palestinian Authority officials must continue.

"I am a realist about where we are but I am a passionate believer that we need to keep talks going and increase the potential of these talks to become genuine negotiations," Ashton told reporters in Gaza City.

"So we are looking to see what we can do to help, but at the end this is a discussion that needs to take place between the two sides," she added.

Ashton's comments came just hours after PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah indicated he wanted the January 26 meeting between the two sides to end the process. Officials in Ramallah indicated Abbas "refused and will continue to refuse" more meetings between Israeli and PA negotiators.

Ashton, however, said the purpose of her three day-trip was to "keep things moving" despite indicaions from the two sides that the exploratory negotiations were "on the brink of collapse."

"The reason I am here in this region is not a coincidence, it is because I wanted to meet with the Israelis and with president Abbas, whom I met also last week in Berlin," Ashton explained.

Ashton said she had held talks with PA premier Salam Fayyad late on Tuesday "to try and see what we can do to help keep things moving."

However, PA officials have accused Israel of being recalcitrant while themselves insisting Israel meet a raft of preconditions before negotiations can begin in earnest. Those include Israel accepting the indefensible pre 1967-lines as the future borders of a PA state, the release of all Arab terrorists from Israeli prisons, and a cessation of construction in territories under dispute between the two sides.

Israeli officials have refused the PA demands saying they are a fait accompli to forestall talks from the outset. Officials in Ramallah, they charge, are seeking to "play the blame game" while "creating the illusion of progress" to assuage EU diplomats like Ashton.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu maintains Israel is ready to restart talks without preconditions from either side "anytime, anywhere." Ashton is expected to meet with Netanyahu on Wednesday evening before heading to Amman where she is expected to meet with Abbas on Thursday.

Abbas met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Wednesday ahead of the January 26 meeting. Abdullah is expected to pressure Abbas to continue negotiations. The current round of exploratory meetings, which began on January 3, have yielded little in the way of results. 

While a senior PLO source reported Israel was willing to cede as much as 94 percent of Judea and Samaria in exchange for the major settlement blocs and a unified Jerusalem, PA officials reportedly considered the offer insufficient.

The fifth and possibly final meeting is expected to begin Wednesday evening.