U.S. Denies Report of Breakthrough in Peace Process

YERUSHALAYIM -

Despite whatever headway Secretary of State John Kerry has made in maneuvering Israel and the Palestinians back into peace talks, reports on Thursday of a breakthrough to be announced on Friday turned out to be premature.

A State Department official said there were currently no plans to announce a resumption of Israeli, Palestinian talks, Reuters reported on Thursday.

The basis of the story had been the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat, citing sources at the Palestinian embassy in Amman.

In another denial, a spokesman for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu repudiated a comment attributed to an Israeli official that Israel had
agreed to the 1967 lines as a starting point for negotiations.

The extreme sensitivity of the issue was made cleary by a statement from Jewish Home party chairman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who said on Thursday that “the party under my leadership will not be part, not even for a second, of a government which agrees to negotiations based on the 1967 borders. Yerushalayim, our capital, is not up, and will never be up, for negotiation.”

However, Army Radio reported on a smaller possible concession in the offing, the dismantling of roadblocks in Yehudah and Shomron, to facilitate Palestinian travel.

Although all sides are evidently pledged to secrecy regarding the specifics of the American initiative, Kerry said after meeting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan on Wednesday that differences had narrowed “very significantly.” Kerry was reportedly staying on in the region in pursuit of the still-elusive breakthrough.

Abbas briefed other PLO leaders in Ramallah on where things are headed, but has made no commitments of any kind.

Palestinian sources in Ramallah told Ynet that the PLO’s executive committee decided to delay its answer to Kerry, pending further clarification. According to the sources, Abbas voiced support of Kerry’s outline for a framework for resumption of talks. While the PLO’s executive committee was receptive, it could not come to an agreement and decided to delay its answer.

Mahmoud Al-Aloul, an official with Fatah, sounded a pessimistic note to reporters after initial consultations. “With the current formula, matters are not encouraging. But no decision has been made,” he said.

Some Palestinian officials claimed that Israel has agreed to release 250 Palestinian prisoners, in addition to another 100 imprisoned before the signing of the Oslo Accords. That issue has already provoked opposition within Israel.

A source close to Abbas said that Kerry’s proposals call for ceasing construction outside the Jewish blocs in Yehudah and Shomron and investment in the Palestinian economy.

“Kerry promised us some very good things, but the problem is that he won’t put this in writing,” one official explained. “In light of our past experiences with the Americans, many leaders here remain skeptical and don’t trust the U.S. Administration.”

Israel’s President Shimon Peres, who holds the optimism portfolio, was characteristically upbeat, at least prior to the delay at the PA, saying that “the latest news I have is that the secretary really made real progress and the chances for an understanding heightened. And this day, tomorrow and another day are very crucial. It’s touch and go,” Peres told foreign correspondents.