News Column

Israel OKs Settlements on Eve of Palestinian Peace Talks

August 13, 2013

The United States urged Palestinians not to balk at peace talks over Israel's approval of new settler homes as the Supreme Court Tuesday rejected an appeal against Israel's planned release of Palestinian prisoners, one day before a new round of peace talks.

A rocket attack from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula was also deflected by Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system, Israel said.

The biggest roadblock to the resumption of the US-sponsored peace talks, set for Wednesday in Jerusalem, could turn out to be the Israeli settlements after its announcement Sunday that more than 1,000 new homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank were approved.

US Secretary of State John Kerry called on Palestinians not to nix the talks because of the decision.

Israel's approval of building in existing settlements was expected "to some degree" and the Palestinians should not "react adversely" to the decision, Kerry said Monday during a visit to Colombia.

Israeli settlement building on land Palestinians want for a future state has been a major sticking point, making peace elusive. Israel wants to keep large settlement blocks under any two-state deal and views all of Jerusalem as its eternal capital, a position rejected internationally.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Kerry said the United States "views all of the settlements as illegitimate."

"I think what this underscores, actually, is the importance of getting to the table, getting to it quickly and resolving the questions with respect to settlements, which are best resolved by solving the problem of security and borders," he said. "Once you have security and borders solved, you have resolved the question of settlements."

Kerry said Israel had been expected to continue building in some settlements and "I think the Palestinians understand that."

However, Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh called the housing announcement "clear proof" that the Israeli government was "not serious about the talks."

"I urge all the parties not to react adversely or to provoke adversely, ... but to understand the importance of the moment that everyone has achieved here," Kerry said in Bogota.

Israel has also released a list of 26 long-held Palestinian prisoners it would free before Wednesday's talks.

The Israeli high court on Tuesday rejected an appeal against the planned release filed by the relatives of Israelis killed in attacks committed or planned by the Palestinian prisoners.

The decision clears the way for the first group of 104 prisoners to be freed as part of a deal to restart the talks, which resumed in Washington two weeks ago after a break of nearly three years.

Any deal would be complicated by Abbas' lack of control of the Gaza Strip, which is governed by the Islamist group Hamas, which opposes the talks and refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist.

Meanwhile, an Egyptian militant group claimed responsibility for firing a rocket at the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat from Egypt's Sinai desert, which borders Israel and Gaza to the north-east.

"Eilat and other Jewish cities will not enjoy security, tourism or economy, and Jews will pay a high price for the blood of the mujahideen," the Mujahideen Shura Council group said in a statement.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system intercepted the rocket.

Another group, called Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, said that four of its members were killed in an alleged Israeli drone attack in Sinai region Friday.

Egyptian security sources said the four had been killed by an Egyptian helicopter as they were setting up a rocket launch pad.

Militants have been targeting Egyptian security forces in Sinai since the army's overthrow of president Mohammed Morsi on July 3.

Egypt and Israel have frequently coordinated security along their shared border, especially during a major offensive last year by the Egyptian army against suspected Islamist radicals.

Sinai has been largely demilitarized, in line with the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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