Mideast talks in peril as peace deadline expires

April 30, 2014 - 6:20:57 am

JERUSALEM: Washington’s deadline for a peace deal expired yesterday with the sides bitterly divided and warnings that Israel risked becoming an “apartheid state” if it failed to make peace with the Palestinians.

As final date for the nine-month negotiation period arrived, peace hopes appeared more remote than ever with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas locked in a tactical game of fingerpointing, and US attempts to broker an extension in tatters.

After more than a year of intensive shuttle diplomacy by US Secretary of State John Kerry who had initially hoped for a deal by April 29, Washington’s was reluctant to admit failure, acknowledging only a “pause” in the dialogue. 

And both leaders were quick to say they were open to resuming talks — but only under certain conditions likely to be unacceptable to the other side.  “If we want to extend the negotiations there has to be a release of prisoners ... a settlement freeze, and a discussion of maps and borders for three months, during which there must be a complete halt to settlement activity,” Abbas said. 

But a senior Israeli government official said there would be no further talks unless Abbas renounced a reconciliation pact signed last week with Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers. 

Israeli analysts said the collapse of the talks was a direct result of Israel’s relentless settlement construction on land which was the subject of negotiations. Figures published yesterday by settlement watchdog Peace Now showed that in parallel with the negotiations, the Israeli government approved plans for nearly 14,000 new settler homes, describing it as an “unprecedented number”.

Israeli forces also demolished several structures, including a mosque, in a Palestinian village. Villagers said the stone mosque was built in 2008, and that soldiers removed prayer rugs and holy scriptures before tearing it down.