Israel: Disagreements emerge in peace efforts

AP News
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Posted: Jan 10, 2012 4:44 PM
Israel: Disagreements emerge in peace efforts

Disagreements have already emerged in nascent negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, an Israeli official said Tuesday, but he said his government remains committed to a year-end target to reaching a final peace deal.

The Israeli pronouncement was the first time either side has spoken about the dialogue launched last week in Jordan. The low-level contacts, between the chief Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, are aimed at reviving formal peace talks.

The Israeli official said the dialogue, which included a second meeting on Monday, has taken place in a positive atmosphere, but disagreements have popped up in two key areas: the timeline and the borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state.

The Palestinians claim the West Bank and east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as parts of their future state. They have repeatedly said that final borders be based on Israel's pre-1967 war lines. Israel, however, rejects a withdrawal to these positions.

The Israeli official said the new Palestinian documents were a "recycling" of long-standing positions that Israel opposes. He said that Israel is working on a counterproposal. In the meantime, Israel submitted its own document addressing all items "necessary to achieve a historic agreement."

He gave no details, saying only that Israel is ready for "serious and substantive discussions" and expressing hope that the Palestinians would give the process a chance as well.

The talks are taking place under the auspices of the international "Quartet" of Mideast peace mediators. The Quartet hopes to broker a peace deal by the end of this year.

In October, the Quartet of Mideast negotiators _ the U.S., U.N., E.U. and Russia _ asked the two sides to produce proposals on territory and security within three months. The Palestinians believe the deadline is Jan. 26. The official said Israel considers that three-month period to have begun last week, when the talks resumed.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are supposed to be secret. The Palestinians declined to respond.

Earlier Tuesday, the Palestinian President Mahmoud said the preliminary talks provide an "important opportunity" for restarting the peace process.

Speaking in Amman, Abbas said hopes for success are "weak." Even so, "we must take this chance," Abbas told reporters after meeting Jordan's King Abdullah II.

Abdullah, who is hosting the talks, is scheduled to meet President Barack Obama at the White House on Jan. 14. Abdullah said that meeting would focus on restarting serious Mideast negotiations.

The issue of settlement construction persists as the heart of the current impasse in peace efforts, which broke down in September 2010 with the expiration of an Israeli settlement freeze.

The Palestinians say they will not resume negotiations as long as Israel continues to build in its settlements in the West Bank as well as in east Jerusalem. Some 500,000 Israelis now live in these areas, and the Palestinians say continued construction is a sign of bad faith..

Israel insists on negotiations without conditions, noting that the Palestinians have not demanded a settlement construction freeze as a condition for talks in the past.

In a new report Tuesday, an anti-settlement watchdog group, Peace Now, said Israel stepped up settlement building in the West Bank in the first nine months of last year.

It said Israel began construction of about 1,850 homes in West Bank settlements in the first nine months of 2011, about 20 percent more than all of the previous year, which included the 10-month freeze on new housing starts.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office rejected the criticism, saying Israel continues to "exercise great restraint" in construction.