- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2012

Palestinians will oppose Israel nonviolently if the Jewish state proceeds with plans to build settlements between Jerusalem and the West Bank, the top Palestinian official in Washington said Friday.

“We are going to resort to whatever venues are available to us in order to make sure that Israel does not kill our dream, kill our hope and keep us under their military occupation forever,” said Maen Rashid Areikat, chief representative of the general delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

He said Palestinians would use “whatever is available to us legally, diplomatically, politically,” but not armed conflict.

Israel announced plans to construct 3,000 housing units for Jewish settlers in the so-called E1 zone, which includes East Jerusalem and the West Bank, hours after the U.N. General Assembly granted the Palestinians nonmember observer state status on Nov. 29.

U.N. regulations ban construction of settlements in occupied territories.

“E1 is a red line, and if Israel embarks on that it will be sending … a final signal to us that there will be no Palestinian state,” Mr. Areikat told reporters at a meeting hosted Friday by the Christian Science Monitor in Washington.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to yield to pressure from the international community, including the U.S., to halt construction plans.

Palestinians say the construction of more settlements between East Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim would sound a death knell for a two-state solution.

Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, at a Christian Science Monitor meeting with reporters Tuesday, dismissed this suggestion as a “canard.”

He said the announcement of settlement construction was intended to send a message to the Palestinians.

“We felt if the Palestinians were taking unilateral actions in the U.N. … we had to send a message that we could also take unilateral actions,” he said.

Although the Obama administration has criticized Israeli plans to expand settlements, Mr. Areikat said the administration has not treated Palestinians and Israel in an evenhanded manner.

“It is very obvious that they have not done that. … Look at the issue of the settlements and us going to the United Nations,” he said. “Everybody in the world knows that the settlements are illegal. … What have they done to hold Israel accountable?”

“When it comes to us resorting to a legitimate venue … we get reprimanded and we get threatened by Congress and by others for resorting to that legitimate venue,” he added.

The key to any successful peace effort is to hold both parties accountable, Mr. Areikat said. “It doesn’t work to always blame the Palestinians.”

Mr. Areikat said the U.N. vote proved that “about 95 percent of the world’s population” is on the side of the Palestinians.

“Our leadership is hoping that the international community, the United States and Israel will seize on this opportunity and move forward engaging in a genuine political process with clear terms of reference that would lead to an end of the conflict once and for all,” he said.

“People can act and react, punish and reward; nothing is going to really change the fact that on Nov. 29 the U.N. General Assembly recognized Palestine as a nonmember state,” he added.

At the United Nations, 138 countries voted in favor, nine opposed and 41 abstained.

The U.S. voted against the measure.

Fatah, the Palestinian faction that rules the West Bank, and Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, have taken steps toward rapprochement after last month’s conflict with Israel. The Palestinian groups have opposed each other since 2007.

Hamas supporters last week held a rally in the West Bank city of Nablus for the first time since 2007.

The Gaza conflict revived calls for ending the division between Hamas and Fatah, Mr. Areikat said.

He said both sides now are waiting for an invitation from Egypt to come to Cairo to discuss the implementation of an agreement reached in Qatar a year ago. In that deal, the Palestinian factions agreed on three points: to use only nonviolent resistance against Israeli occupation, accept a two-state solution based on 1967 borders, and hold elections in the Palestinian territories.

“We will continue to insist on these three points in any discussions with Hamas,” Mr. Areikat said.

Hamas’ exiled leader, Khaled Meshaal, last week attended a “”victory rally” in Gaza during which he refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Mr. Areikat reiterated the PLO’s recognition of Israel.

“Any future reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas must be based on a common denominator, and the PLO has clearly stated … that we are not planning to move toward Hamas’ position when it comes to how we need to resolve the conflict,” he said.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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