The acting Palestinian Authority chief says the US-backed talks with Israel are near collapse over Tel Aviv’s refusal to stop expanding Jewish settlements on the occupied Palestinian territories.
Speaking during a visit to Greece on Wednesday, Mahmoud Abbas said that there was "no doubt" that the direct negotiations were in crisis.
He made the remarks shortly after the US admitted that it had failed to get Israel to renew its partial settlement freeze in the occupied West Bank, which is the Palestinian side’s precondition for returning to talks.
Washington’s announcement sparked criticism by Palestinian officials, who questioned the US ability to forge ahead with the Middle East peace process.
"The one who couldn’t make Israel limit its settlement activities in order to conduct serious negotiations, how can he be able to make Israel accept a fair solution," said Abed Rabbo, Secretary-General of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee. "This is the big question now."
Reacting to the issue, the European Union expressed regret about Israel’s refusal to a partial freeze in settlement building on Palestinian lands, calling the Israeli settlement expansion illegal and an obstacle to peace.
"We note with regret that the Israelis have not been in a position to accept an extension of the moratorium as requested by the EU, the US and the (Middle East diplomatic) Quartet," EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said, adding that "our views on settlements are clear; they are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace."
The new round of direct negotiations between Israel and the PA started in Washington in September after a 20-month hiatus. But the talks reached a deadlock shortly after re-launch over Tel Aviv’s refusal to meet the Palestinian side’s demand for extending the partial settlement freeze in the West Bank.
Israel resumed its illegal construction work hours after the expiry of the 10-month moratorium.
Palestinians argue that expansion of Jewish settlements on their occupied lands will make the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip impossible.
Washington, however, has vowed to find a solution to bring the two sides back to the negotiation table.