RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - The United States should blame Israel for the “collapse” of the peace process, a senior Palestinian official said on Thursday, giving one of the bleakest assessments yet on recent Middle East diplomatic moves.
Israeli plans announced on Wednesday to build near East Jerusalem showed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not want to resume stalled peace talks, Palestinian officials said.
“It’s time for the American administration to tell the world that Israel holds the responsibility for the collapse of this peace process,” chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said. “Israel has chosen settlements and not peace,” he told Reuters.
The United States has been trying to revive direct negotiations between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but weeks of diplomacy have yet to yield a breakthrough.
The Palestinians want Israel to stop building on land where they aim to found an independent state, including areas in and around Jerusalem captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
Abbas and Netanyahu held three rounds of direct talks in September but the Palestinians withdrew from the negotiations three weeks later when a 10-month, partial Israeli freeze on settlement building expired.
Washington has offered Netanyahu a package of inducements to persuade him to extend the moratorium by 90 days, but the Americans have not provided the written guarantees Israel wanted to back up their proposal, putting the peace talks on hold.
The U.S. Consul General to Jerusalem, Daniel Rubinstein, told Abbas on Thursday that U.S. efforts would continue with all parties, Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said.
Abbas told Rubinstein that Israel was procrastinating.
George Giacaman, a political scientist at Birzeit University near Ramallah, said the U.S. failure to reach an agreement with Israel over the settlements made Washington look weak.
“Netanyahu has won so far more than one round,” he said.
Israel on Wednesday announced plans for 625 new homes in Pisgat Zeev, built on West Bank land that Israel annexed to its Jerusalem municipality immediately after the 1967 war. “This Israeli signal shows that they are not willing and not ready for any deal in order to resume the negotiations,” Rdainah told Reuters.
Israel sees Pisgat Zeev and other districts it has built in the Jerusalem area since 1967 as part of its capital. The Palestinians regard them as settlements, a view supported by the European Union.
Israel’s building in and around Jerusalem this year has strained its ties with the United States, which says such building does not help peace negotiations.
Israel has criticised the Palestinian demand for a settlement freeze as a precondition that never existed in previous rounds of negotiations.
Erekat said Washington should recognise a state of Palestine in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, if it wished “to preserve the two-state solution.”
Editing by Kevin Liffey