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No progress, plenty of pessimism from Israelis, Palestinians

U.S., others push for continued talks

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Palestinian and Israeli officials Wednesday expressed pessimism over Jordanian-sponsored talks aimed at establishing a basis for a peace deal, signaling renewed entrenchment by both camps ahead of an international deadline.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday that the Amman dialogue had not yielded any breakthroughs and that he would consult with Arab allies next week to discuss next steps.

The Washington Times first reported Friday that Palestinian officials plan to resume their effort to gain U.N. membership because they see no chance of reaching a peace deal with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"The feeling here is that they don't want to talk to us," said an Israeli Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity to freely discuss the sensitive issue.

"They've gone to Amman in a desire to be seen to be cooperating but with the intent of reaching Jan. 26, when they can say the talks have failed and they can go back to their original plan, which is the internationalization of the conflict."

Thursday marks the Palestinian interpretation of a three-month deadline set in October by the Middle East "Quartet" - the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia - for the parties to submit proposals on borders and security.

Israel argues that it has until late March to present its border proposals because the Amman talks did not begin until January.

The Palestinians froze their U.N. campaign to participate in the Jordanian talks, but officials said it would begin anew Thursday.

On Wednesday, Mr. Abbas met with Jordan's King Abdullah II and accused Israel of not wanting a resolution to the border issue. The Palestinian president has refused to engage in formal talks with Israel unless it freezes West Bank settlement construction and accepts a two-state solution based on its pre-1967 frontiers.

"If the borders are set, it's possible to return to negotiations, but the Israelis do not want established borders," Mr. Abbas said, according to the Palestinian News and Information Agency.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland responded to Mr. Abbas, saying that the U.S. wants the Jordanian talks to continue.

"We want to see all of these issues settled through negotiation, and we want them to stay at the table and work on the issues rather than be out there making statements in public," she said.

Nabil Shaath, commissioner of foreign relations for Mr. Abbas's Fatah party, said in an interview last week that the Palestinians had gone to Amman so as not to be accused of missing an opportunity.

"As a person, I don't expect Mr. Netanyahu to produce anything," he said. "After the 26th, we are free to do what we want."

Mr. Shaath and other Palestinian officials also spoke of a potential "third intifada" against Israel, but all stressed that such an uprising would be nonviolent.

Abbas adviser Sabri Saidam raised the specter of a hacking-centered "electronic intifada."

Pro-Palestinian hackers on Wednesday shut down several Israeli websites, barely a week after they had struck the sites of Israel's stock exchange, national airline, and main bus company.

"This is becoming a way of life rather than a one-off phenomenon," Mr. Saidam said by phone Wednesday.

Meanwhile in the Gaza Strip, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton added her voice to the Quartet chorus hoping for a continuation of the Jordanian talks.

"We need to keep talks going and increase the potential of these talks to become genuine negotiations," said Ms. Ashton, who will meet with Mr. Abbas and Mr. Netanyahu in coming days.

She did not meet with Hamas, which controls Gaza, maintaining the EU's official boycott of the militant group.

In a phone interview Wednesday, senior Hamas figure Ahmed Yousef - the group's former deputy foreign minister - called the Quartet a "puppet of Israel."

"They are doing nothing to help the Palestinians or to implement any of the things they have promised the Palestinians, so the Quartet is just functioning to serve the Israelis," he said.

Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas' premier in Gaza, announced Wednesday that he would visit Tehran during an international tour that will begin Monday. Earlier this month, he visited Turkey, Sudan, Tunisia and Egypt in his first trip out of Gaza since Hamas' June 2007 takeover.

Mr. Haniyeh's jet-setting comes as he prepares to run for the group's top position. Khaled Mashal, Hamas' current leader, has said he will not seek re-election.

Mr. Mashal and Mr. Abbas are slated to meet Feb. 2 in Cairo to discuss implementing a long-stalled unity deal that would end the 4 1/2-year schism between Hamas-controlled Gaza and the Fatah-dominated West Bank and pave the way for new elections.

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