Israel must make good on past pledges to freeze settlement construction and free the last batch of Palestinian prisoners scheduled for release if it wants the current peace talks to continue past their April deadline, Palestinian official Nabil Shaath warned Monday.
Speaking at a Tel Aviv University forum on the peace process, Shaath said it would not be "the end of the world" should the ongoing talks led by Secretary of State John Kerry fail. He said that in such an eventuality, the sides would need to explore alternative options, and suggested an international conference along the lines of a summit on Syria held last month in Geneva.
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Shaath's comments came just hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with US President Barack Obama, who reiterated his support for the neogtiations talks and urged Israel strive for a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
For his part, Netanyahu claimed Israel is doing its part to pursue peace, while the Palestinians were less committed to finding a solution, something which Netanyahu said he regretted.
Shaath's call for a halt in West Bank construction has long been demanded by the Palestinians as a precondition for advancing peace talks. But when given the option of either a settlement freeze or freeing prisoners directly involved in deadly terror attacks, Netanyahu's rightist coalition decided to release 104 Palestinian prisoners as a sign of good faith, rather than commit to a West Bank construction freeze.
Shaath also took a more moderate tone to that of Obama, who this week told Bloomberg's Jeffery Goldberg that time was running out for peace talks and warning of dire consequences for both Israel and the Palestinians should talks fail.
During his interview with Goldberg, Obama seemed to reject such an option, saying that any leader who rejected current talks – a possibly veiled reference to Netanyahu – "needs to articulate an alternative approach (and) It’s hard to come up with one that’s plausible.”
Regarding Israel's demand to keep control over the Jordan Valley for security reasons, Shaath claimed that the Palestinians were denied the chance to "pass the test" of securing the region by Israel demand they remain demilitarized.