JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday accused the Palestinians of evading direct peace talks as Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas stuck to his demand for border guarantees.
The latest exchange indicated a lingering gap between the two sides despite months of US shuttle diplomacy and repeated calls from President Barack Obama and other leaders for the resumption of direct talks halted in December 2008.
“We have an understanding with the Americans that we need to move now, without any delay, to direct negotiations, but in response, we have a clear Palestinian attempt to avoid this process,” Netanyahu said.
“If anyone ever doubted the Palestinians’ reluctance, it is now completely clear,” he told the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and defence, adding that Israel was ready to kick off direct talks “immediately.”
“They are trying to stall and to sneak away from direct negotiations and to cause the Arab League to shackle the talks,” Netanyahu added.
His remarks came just days ahead of an Arab League meeting in Cairo at which Abbas was to discuss the indirect talks with Israel, which began in May, and to consider upgrading to direct negotiations.
Abbas, who has repeatedly demanded that Israel first halt settlement construction and agree to its 1967 borders as the basis of the negotiations, denied hindering the talks.
“We are ready to hold direct peace negotiations with Israel,” Abbas told reporters in Amman, adding however that they “should be held in line with a clear reference — the 1967 borders.”
“We have negotiated with Israeli governments before, more than once. Why would we avoid such talks? We are not,” Abbas said after talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
Meanwhile, four Israeli settlers and three Palestinians were wounded in the occupied West Bank when the settlers stormed into the village of Burin to protest the removal of a nearby outpost by the Israeli military.
Both sides had begun hurling stones after dozens of settlers swept into the village.
The attack appeared to be part of a “price tag” policy championed by hardline settlers opposed to any withdrawal from the occupied territory, forcing the Palestinians to pay the penalty.
Israel temporarily halted the construction of new settler homes in the West Bank under pressure from Washington, but the moratorium is set to end on September 26.
Netanyahu has given no indication he will extend the measure, and several prominent members of his mostly right-wing government have vowed to begin building as soon as the moratorium expires.
Obama said during a meeting with Netanyahu at the White House earlier this month that he hoped direct talks would start before then.
The Palestinians have meanwhile expressed concern that if the negotiations are not launched with certain guarantees they will meet the same fate as previous rounds of failed talks going back to the early 1990s.
Few Palestinians believe Netanyahu’s government is willing to withdraw from the West Bank and east Jerusalem — captured in the 1967 Six-Day War but expected to form their promised state along with the Gaza Strip.
They point out that in nearly 17 years of on-again, off-again peace talks the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank has nearly tripled to 300,000, with another 200,000 now living in occupied and annexed east Jerusalem.