Senator Kerry makes Middle East trip to save stagnating peace talks 5Nov13 November 5, 2013

Construction in West Bank settlementby Harriet Sherwood   -   The Guardian   -   5 November 2013

Jerusalem The US secretary of state, John Kerry, who is meeting Israeli and Palestinian leaders separately in the Middle East this week, is preparing to table a plan to push forward stagnating peace talks between the two sides, according to reports.

Although negotiations resumed more than three months ago, with 15 meetings clocked up so far, American officials are concerned there is no sign of real movement or a breakthrough, with both sides restating established positions. A US proposal, likely to be presented in the new year, would be aimed at injecting impetus.

The reports come as Palestinian dismay over Israeli settlement expansion is mounting, and as the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is insisting that any peace agreement must include a continued Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, a strip of the West Bank along the border with Jordan.

Israel is also pressing ahead with plans to build a steel security barrier along the border with Jordan, the last remaining section of Israel’s perimeter that is not fenced. It is not clear whether the fence would continue inside the West Bank to create an Israeli-controlled buffer zone between Palestinian and Jordanian territory.

Netanyahu told cabinet colleagues on Sunday that an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley was paramount. “First and foremost, the security border of the state of Israel will remain along the Jordan River,” he said.

According to an Israeli member of parliament, the US is preparing to table a blueprint for peace. Zahava Gal-On, leader of the leftwing Meretz party, told Haaretz the plan would “include all the core issues and will be based on the 1967 lines, with agreed-on land swaps. The plan will include a gradual timetable for implementation and will also address the dimension of regional peace based on the Arab peace initiative as a basis for renewed talks. It will also include an economic plan to invest billions in the Palestinian economy.” The 2002 Arab peace initiative was a plan for Arab countries to make peace with Israel in return for a Palestinian state.

The US had moved from “third party trying to bring the two sides together, to a role of direct involvement in the process”, Gal-On added in a statement.

Israel’s army radio said Kerry was working on a plan similar to the Clinton parameters, guidelines set out by the former US president in 2000 as a basis for negotiations. The secretary of state reportedly informed Netanyahu of his intentions during a seven-hour meeting in Rome two weeks ago.

The Clinton parameters called for a demilitarised Palestinian state on about 95% of the West Bank with compensatory land swaps, the incorporation of the main settlement blocks into Israel, a temporary international presence in the Jordan Valley, and Palestinian refugees being compensated and permitted to return to their new state. Jerusalem would be shared as the capital of both states.

US officials have taken a more proactive role in recent negotiating sessions, scheduled to last until the spring. Despite little sign of compromise, both sides are anxious to avoid blame for the failure of negotiations. To that end, the parties have thus far stuck to their pre-talks commitments: Israel by releasing a second batch of long-term Palestinian prisoners last week, and the Palestinians by refraining from signing up to international bodies and treaties.

But Israel’s announcement last week of more than 1,700 new homes in East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements prompted the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, to offer his resignation, a move rejected by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinians have also threatened to demand that international bodies declare settlement construction a war crime.

Netanyahu dismissed the complaints, saying: “The Palestinians knew that we would build in the course of the negotiations. This was a clear part of the start of the negotiations, and they were told clearly that Israel would not put any restriction on construction during this period. All the Palestinian allegations that this is a violation are an attempt to create an artificial crisis. Israel has met all the commitments that it has undertaken.”

Speaking in Cairo, Kerry said the Israeli announcement had “disturbed people’s perceptions of whether or not people are serious and are moving in the right direction”.

Israel’s outgoing national security adviser, Ya’akov Amidror, said the failure of the talks would increase Israel’s international isolation. “It is clear to everyone that handling international pressure depends on the progress of the negotiations, and if the talks fail, it will give everyone interested in boycotting us every reason to do so,” he said.

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