Kerry urges restraint on settlement issue

2013-08-13 08:03
An Israeli flag is seen in front of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maaleh Adumim, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. (File, AP)

An Israeli flag is seen in front of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maaleh Adumim, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. (File, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Bogota - US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Palestinians "not to react adversely" on Monday to Israel's announcement of new settlement building, and stressed the importance of getting back to peace talks.

With a new peace dialogue in its fledgling moments after a three-year halt, the approval of almost 800 housing units in annexed east Jerusalem and around 400 elsewhere in the West Bank on Sunday infuriated Palestinians.

The plan was swiftly followed by Israel announcing that it would release 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners ahead of a resumption of peace talks on Wednesday in Jerusalem.

As some Israeli ministers criticised the government's prisoner release, Palestinians slammed the settlement plan, which Washington and the European Union said on Monday was illegal and detrimental to peace efforts.

The last peace talks in 2010 broke down on the issue of settlement building.

Kerry, on a trip to Colombia, sought to neutralise the atmosphere, noting that the Israeli building plan was "to some degree expected," and calling for both sides to get down to resolving their major issues.

"We have known that there was going to be a continuation of some building in certain places, and I think the Palestinians understand that," he said.

But he added: "I think one of the announcements or maybe one of them was outside of that level of expectation, and that's being discussed right now".

Security and borders

Kerry, who took the lead in securing last month's resumption of peace talks, said he did not expect the latest developments to become a "speed bump," but he reiterated that the United States regards all settlements as illegal.

"What this underscores, actually, is the importance of getting to the table... quickly, and resolving the questions with respect to settlements, which are best resolved by solving the problem of security and borders," Kerry told reporters in Bogota.

"Once you have security and borders solved, you have resolved the question of settlements. And so I urge all the parties not to react adversely or to provoke adversely, whichever party may do one or the other in any way.

"With the negotiation of major issues, these kinds of hot-point issues really become much easier to - in fact, they are eliminated as the kind of flashpoints that they may be viewed as today."

The 26 prisoners constitute the first batch of a total of 104 long-term Palestinian and Israeli Arab inmates to be freed in four stages, depending on progress in the talks.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat underlined the importance of the prisoner release for peace talks to continue.

"We hope to put into effect what we've agreed on... we hope for the release of 104 prisoners. Each will return to his house. This is what we've agreed on," he told Israeli Arabic-language radio.

"There is a clear understanding between us and the Americans and Israelis. Any change [in that] will mean the agreement is off the table."

The decision to free prisoners, however, has angered the families of those killed in assaults.

"This is a day of celebration for terror organisations," Meir Indor, head of Almagor, a group representing Israeli victims of Palestinian attacks, told AFP.

‘Preventing’ peace talks

Most prisoners being freed were arrested for "murder", with five being "accomplices to murder" and one being guilty of "abduction and killing", Israel says.

All prisoners had been arrested before 1994 except one who was arrested in 2001.

Housing Minister Uri Ariel of the far-right Jewish Home party also reacted angrily to the impending releases.

"Terrorists belong in prison," Ariel said. "The terrorists who are being released murdered women and children, and it's not clear to me how releasing murderers can help peace."

Ariel's ministry had on Sunday announced tenders for the construction of 793 settlement housing units in annexed east Jerusalem and 394 elsewhere in the West Bank.

Media reports have implied that the construction announcement was meant to appease Netanyahu's far-right coalition partners, who oppose the release of prisoners but fervently promote settlement construction.

"I don't know of such a deal, but look - both were announced on the same day," Indor said.

Palestinian officials slammed the settlement announcement as a move aimed at "preventing" peace talks.

"It is clear that the Israeli government is deliberately attempting to sabotage US and international efforts to resume negotiations by approving more settlement units three days before the ... Palestinian-Israeli meeting," Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Shtayeh said.

Russia described the Israeli move as "a counterproductive step that complicates the atmosphere of the talks".

But a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that the new settlement units were "in areas that will remain part of Israel in any possible future peace agreement".

"It changes nothing," Mark Regev added.

Read more on:    john kerry  |  benjamin netanyahu  |  israel  |  palestine  |  us  |  middle east peace

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
3 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.