Official: Israel imposing agenda on Mideast talks
Published Thursday 16/01/2014 (updated) 18/01/2014 12:06
Nabil Shaath (C), Fatah's commissioner of International relations,
is welcomed in Gaza on May 26, 2011 (AFP/File Mohammed Abed)
RAMALLAH (AFP) -- A top Palestinian leader Thursday accused Israel of imposing its own agenda onto Washington's Middle East peace push, pressing issues that overshadowed Palestinian demands.
The remarks by senior Fatah party member Nabil Shaath came after US Secretary of State John Kerry's 10th visit to the region to try to push a framework for final status talks as an April deadline for the negotiations loomed.
"Israel has succeeded in really persuading Mr. Kerry to change the agenda of the discussions," Shaath told reporters in Ramallah.
"Today, you will see Mr. Kerry going back and forth, discussing nothing but two issues. The two issues have never been in our agenda: the Jewishness of the state and (Israeli soldiers in) the Jordan (Valley)," he said.
Palestinian leaders refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, fearing this could preclude the right of return for Palestinian refugees who were driven into exile when the State of Israel was created in 1948. They also worry it could threaten the rights of Israel's 20 percent Palestinian minority.
Another sticking point in talks is security arrangements in the Jordan Valley, where the West Bank borders Jordan, under any future peace agreement.
Israeli officials insist on maintaining a long-term military presence in the Jordan Valley as a buffer against attacks, but Palestinian officials want an international security force deployed there instead.
Shaath said Kerry was being forced to hammer out the two issues as other crucial points -- such as the borders of a future Palestinian state -- were being overlooked.
"They (Israelis) force the agenda on (Kerry); they will not talk about anything else."
"It is a narrative problem that is taking most of the time of Mr. Kerry," he said.
"You think any Palestinian leader in his right mind can ever accept this?" Shaath said of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.
"Or is this simply instated to make it impossible for any Palestinian leader to sign a peace agreement with Israel?"
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an unannounced visit to neighboring Jordan Thursday for talks with King Abdullah II on the peace process, notably the security issue.
"Israel is putting an emphasis on security arrangements, which is also in Jordan's interest in any future agreement," Netanyahu's office said in a statement issued after he returned to Israel.
The peace talks have in recent months focused specifically on security, with Kerry and his team proposing a detailed plan for the Jordan Valley.
A peace treaty would deal with all the divisive core issues, including the contours of a future Palestinian state, refugees, the fate of Jerusalem claimed by both as a capital, security, and mutual recognition.
Ma'an staff contributed to this report.