RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - A senior Palestinian official said Thursday he saw no hope of a serious peace process with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in some of the darkest comments to date on the U.S.-mediated talks.
Yasser Abed Rabbo’s remarks signalled deep Palestinian scepticism about the outlook for the talks, which began on September 2 but have been on hold since an Israeli moratorium on new settlement building in the occupied West Bank expired last week.
The United States wants the talks to continue and has been trying to find a formula to save the negotiations.
“There will be no serious political process while Netanyahu’s government pursues settlements,” Abed Rabbo, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told Voice of Palestine radio.
“I can go further still and say that there will be no serious political process with Netanyahu’s government.”
Netanyahu, who heads a cabinet dominated by pro-settler parties, including his own Likud, has said he will not extend the freeze that his government had enforced for 10 months.
“We have stood by our commitments,” he told reporters during a visit to Lod, a town in central Israel. “We hope very much the Palestinians will stick with the peace talks. What is important is to try and advance towards an agreement that can bring about an end to the conflict between us.”
Abbas and Netanyahu met three times before the end of the moratorium. The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) said on Saturday talks would not resume until Israel stopped settlement building on land where the Palestinians aim to found a state.
The United States and European Union had called on Israel to extend the settlement freeze. The expiry of the moratorium had been seen as an early obstacle facing U.S. President Barack Obama’s push to end the six-decade-old conflict within a year.
Before the peace talks got under way, Abbas had himself raised doubts over the chances of peace with an Israeli government headed by Netanyahu.
But Palestinian officials had avoided such remarks once direct negotiations began in Washington.
The Palestinians say settlement growth on land occupied by Israel in 1967 will make the establishment of a viable Palestinian state impossible.
Israel says the future of settlements and drawing of borders should be determined in the peace talks, whose declared aim is the creation of a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.
The Palestinians want to found their state in the West Bank, where Abbas’s Palestinian Authority holds sway, and in the Gaza Strip, territory now run by Hamas Islamists opposed to the peace process, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Abbas will brief the Arab League’s peace process follow-up committee on the state of the talks with Israel Friday in Libya. The meeting will be followed by an Arab summit on Saturday.
Abed Rabbo said he expected Arab support for the Palestinian position. “The discussion at the upcoming Arab summit and the Arab follow-up committee will be about the coming political choices and not about whether there will be negotiations while settlement is going on,” he said.
Additional reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem; Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by Mark Heinrich