Israel protests once again: Abbas’ unilateral moves hinder peace talks
JERUSALEM - Israel's deputy foreign minister on Wednesday accused Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas of rejecting direct peace talks in favour of "unilateral" moves to seek statehood.
Abbas "is in no hurry to restart negotiations, despite the pressures on him, because he thinks that the unilateral path will get him further and that way he won't have to pay a political price," Zeev Elkin said on public radio.
Elkin's comments came just days before US Secretary of State John Kerry returns to the region for his fifth visit in just over four months in a bid to coax the parties into resuming direct talks which collapsed in September 2010.
His remarks were also made as Israel and the Palestinians separately marked 46 years since the start of the Six Day War when Israeli forces seized Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem, with the Palestinians mourning it as the "naksa" or setback.
The Palestinians in November successfully applied for upgraded UN status as a non-member state in a move sharply denounced by Israel and Washington as a "unilateral" move, with both insisting a Palestinian state can only arise out of bilateral negotiations.
Elkin, a hawkish member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's rightwing Likud party, also reaffirmed Israel's refusal to return to the lines which existed before the 1967 Six Day War.
"The people of Israel are not ready to commit suicide and make the same mistake they made when they pulled out of the Gaza Strip (in 2005)," he said, referring to the subsequent takeover of the territory by Hamas and the barrage of rocket fire which has since been aimed at southern Israel.
Until now, the Palestinian leadership has said it will only return to negotiations if Israel stops building on land it wants for a future state and if Israel agrees to negotiate on the basis of the pre-1967 lines.
The Palestinian position on resuming peace talks according to the 1967 lines was known to the US and Israel and “the ball is now in the Israeli court,” official Palestinian news agency WAFA cited Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as saying on Tuesday,
"Israel has to accept -the Palestinian position- to re-launch negotiations so that we can go back to the negotiating table as soon as possible to reach a solution to all outstanding issues and achieve the two-state solution on the 1967 borders,” Abbas was quoted as saying at a press conference in Ramallah with Mohamed Waheed Hassan, President of the Maldives.
Abbas was also cited as praising the efforts of US Secretary of State John Kerry toward finding a solution to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, saying that Kerry "is serious and very much interested in reaching a solution.”
Kerry has been trying to draw the parties back into direct negotiations, but on Monday warned that Israel could be facing its last chance to secure a peace deal.