Palestinians inspect the damaged house of Moataz Washaha, who died during an Israeli army raid in the northern West Bank town of Bir Zeit, near Ramallah, yesterday.
RAMALLAH: A senior Palestinian official yesterday rejected US moves to extend an April deadline for nine months of talks with Israel to culminate in a framework peace deal.
“There is no meaning to prolonging the negotiation, even for one more additional hour, if Israel, represented by its current government, continues to disregard international law,” Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said.
“If there was a committed partner, we wouldn’t even have needed nine hours to reach that deal,” he said.
He was responding to comments by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who told reporters in Washington on Wednesday that more time would be needed and that he hoped first to agree a framework to guide further talks.
It was Kerry who coaxed the two sides back to the negotiating table in late July, after a three-year hiatus.
“Then we get into the final negotiations. I don’t think anybody would worry if there’s another nine months, or whatever it’s going to be... But that’s not defined yet,” he said.
Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said last month that he expected the time frame to be lengthened.
“We are now trying to reach a framework to continue negotiations for a period beyond the nine months some thought would suffice for reaching a permanent accord,” he said.
US President Barack Obama is to host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House next week when he is expected to renew pressure on his guest to rein in the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, an issue that has threatened to drive the Palestinians away from the negotiating table.
Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported yesterday that Netanyahu’s cabinet had quietly begun a de facto freeze on expanding settlements outside the major Jewish population centres.
The paper said the move was revealed to a West Bank settler leader in a conversation with Cabinet Secretary Avihai Mandelblit.
“We’ve received instructions from the political level not to move ahead on (construction) plans beyond those for the settlement blocs,” it quoted Mandelblit as telling Jordan Valley settler David Elhayani.
Israeli army radio reported last week that Washington was expected to demand a partial settlement freeze when Kerry unveils his formula for extending the peace talks.
Israel has so far resisted persistent pressure from its key ally to renew a one-time, 10-month partial freeze on new West Bank building, which expired in late 2010, contributing to the collapse of the last round of peace talks.
A moratorium is fiercely opposed by hardline partners in Netanyahu’s fractious coalition and by many in his own right-wing Likud party.
“We shall not freeze construction,” Housing Minister Uri Ariel of the far-right Jewish Home party said last week.
“There is no way the prime minister would order that there will be no tenders issued outside the settlement blocs,” he said.
Both the Palestinians and the international community consider all Israeli construction on land it seized in the 1967 Middle East war to be a violation of international law.
BIRZEIT: A Palestinian died during an Israeli army raid on his home in the West Bank town of Birzeit yesterday, the military and a Palestinian security source said.
The death came as Amnesty International criticised Israel’s killing of dozens of Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank over the past three years.
“After the army left the house and the town, the body of Motazz Washaha was found,” the Palestinian source said.
The army confirmed the death of a “Palestinian suspected of terror activity.”
“After the suspect was called to turn himself in, he barricaded himself inside his house,” it said.
Soldiers responded with “live fire” and recovered an assault rifle, it added.
Neighbours said the dead man was a member of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
The army entered Birzeit, north of the West Bank administrative centre of Ramallah, last morning and used “riot dispersal means” to clear stone-throwing Palestinians from their path to the house.
The Palestinian government slammed what it said was a “new escalation” by Israel. “The forces of the occupation surrounded Washaha’s house, evacuated its other inhabitants and then fired several rockets at it, destroying parts of it whilst firing (with guns),” a statement said.