In Brief

Israeli president says Netanyahu torpedoed peace deal

Shimon Peres says two-state solution was agreed before it was ‘ended’ by Netanyahu

ISRAELI president Shimon Peres said on Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deliberately destroyed a peace deal that had been reached covertly with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2011.

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 news, Peres said that “almost all issues” had been resolved in a series of secret meetings held in Jordan.

As the deal approached completion, Peres said that Netanyahu told him to wait three or four days for a better deal to come along, The Times of Israel reports.

“The days went by and there was no better deal,” said Peres. “Netanyahu stopped it [the potential agreement]”.

The deal included the explicit recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and the establishment of a Palestinian state, the president said.

“He was supposed to agree [to recognise] a Jewish state and we were supposed to agree to recognise a Palestinian state,” Peres said.

Peres, who has known Abbas for 30 years, described the Palestinian Authority President as a man of “character”, a “fighter against terrorism”, and someone who is courageous and believes in peace, The Jerusalem Post reports.

Last month, the latest round of peace talks broke down after Abbas announced a deal with Hamas, a Palestinian faction that Israel describes as a “terrorist group”.

Netanyahu responded to the accusation by denying that any agreement had been reached three years ago, Jewish Press reports. “The only one Abbas has reached an agreement with is with Hamas”, Netanyahu said in a statement released on Voice of Israel government radio.

Peres served twice as the Prime Minister of Israel and twice as interim prime minister. He is a member of Kadima, a centrist Israeli political party. Netanyahu belongs to Likud, the major centre-right party. The two politicians have long been ideological opposites, but have tended to be supportive of one another, the Daily Beast notes.

In Israel, the role of president is largely ceremonial and full executive power rests with the prime minister. Peres is set to retire in two months’ time at the age of 90.

Middle East peace talks break down after Fatah-Hamas deal

25 April

ISRAELI prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has suspended US-brokered peace talks after Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas announced a deal with Hamas – a Palestinian faction that Israel describes as a "terrorist group".

Netanyahu tells the BBC that Abbas, who is leader of the fatah party, has "taken a giant leap backwards".

Fatah and Hamas, the two major Palestinian political groups that control, respectively, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, agreed a deal on Wednesday to attempt to form a unity government in the coming weeks.

The news prompted Netanyahu's announcement that peace with Israel would only be possible if Abbas abandoned the deal.

Talks had already been faltering after "two key confidence-building measures", seen as key to any deal, were abandoned. Earlier this month Netanyahu scrapped a planned release of Palestinian prisoners in response to Abbas seeking Palestinian membership of 15 international UN agencies.

Since then, the White House has struggled to extend negotiations past the Tuesday deadline that had been agreed last July when both sides revived the process for the first time since 2010.

Netanyahu describes Hamas as "a terrorist organisation that calls for the destruction of Israel".

He says: "What has happened is a great reverse for peace, because we had hoped the Palestinian Authority president Abbas would embrace the Jewish state, the idea of two nation states, Palestinian one and a Jewish one".

The two factions have been estranged since Hamas expelled forces loyal to Fatah from the Gaza strip after clashes in 2007. Ismail Haniya, prime minister of the Hamas-led government in Gaza describes the reconciliation between the two factions as good news. "The era of division is over", he claims.

The US, Israel and the EU all consider Hamas to be a terrorist group.

Middle East peace talks falter as Israel halts prisoner release

4 April

ISRAEL has scrapped a planned release of Palestinian prisoners, throwing nine months of US-brokered peace talks into disarray.

The announcement comes just days after Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas began a renewed push for Palestinian membership of 15 international UN agencies, something that America and Israel actively oppose.

Both moves mark the abandonment of "two key confidence-building measures" that were put in place at the start of the peace talks to "smooth the progress" of negotiations towards a two-state solution, The Guardian says.

Washington spokesman Jay Carney said Israel's latest move "creates challenges", but that the US secretary of state, John Kerry, would remain in contact with both sides in a bid to keep the talks alive.

"There has been progress in narrowing some of the questions that have arisen as a result of the events of the last few days," he said. "Neither side has indicated that they want to walk away from the talks. They both indicated they want to find a way to move forward."

In recent days, the US had been trying to extend peace talks past their current deadline of 29 April. Washington hoped that the planned release of Palestinian prisoners might help extend the talks, but three previous releases of Palestinian prisoners were deeply unpopular in Israel as many of those freed had been convicted of killing Israelis.

Palestinian negotiators say that the application for membership of various international organisations came as a result of frustration over Israel’s refusal to release the detainees.

Each side blames the other for initiating the sequence of retrograde steps, says the BBC Middle East correspondent Kevin Connolly.

Earlier Kerry said talks had reached a "critical moment" where both sides had to agree to compromise if they wanted to see progress. "You can push, you can nudge, but the parties themselves have to make fundamental decisions and compromises," warned Kerry.

Is John Kerry's Middle East peace plan about to collapse?

2 April

JOHN KERRY, the US secretary of state, today cancelled a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but said that it was "premature" to write off Middle East peace talks.

Before the meeting was cancelled, Abbas signed papers to formerly induct the Palestinian Authority into 15 international UN agencies, a move America and Israel actively oppose.

Secretary of State Kerry said that the cancellation of the visit was not a response to the induction, but Time magazine suggests that the two may have been connected.

Israel, meanwhile, has reissued tenders for 708 homes in the Jewish settlement of Gilo in East Jerusalem – territory disputed by the Palestinian leadership. Building on occupied territory is considered illegal under international law.

Kerry called for restraint on both sides and urged them to continue to take part in the peace talks: "It is completely premature tonight to draw... any final judgement about today's events and where things are," he said. "This is a moment to be really clear-eyed and sober about this process.

"There are a lot of different possibilities in play. All I can tell you is that we are continuing, even now as I am standing up here speaking, to be engaged with both parties to find the best way forward."

The best way forward?

Since last July, US Secretary of State John Kerry has overseen talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in a bid to find a blueprint for peace in the Middle East.

He is soon expected to present a proposal to end decades of conflict in the region.

Kerry hopes to overcome the seemingly intractable problems with proposals that involve compromise for both sides.

What does each side want?

The Israeli administration ultimately wants international recognition of a legitimate democratic Jewish state that covers "all the Promised Land" (otherwise known as the Land of Israel) as per its biblical limits. Palestinian negotiators want an independent state occupying 100 per cent of the West Bank with a capital in Jerusalem, as well as the removal of all Israeli troops and settlements, the New York Times's Thomas L Friedman says. As the two visions overlap, some compromise will be necessary on both sides.

What is Kerry’s current goal?

Kerry had originally planned to present a framework of core principles for a deal between the two sides, but in recent weeks he has refocused his efforts on simply extending the timetable for talks.

"It's a process leading nowhere," Khalil Shikaki, a Palestinian pollster and political scientist, told the New York Times. "The basic compromises that this Israeli government is willing to endorse are unacceptable to the majority of the Palestinians," he added. "There is no chance."

What had Kerry been hoping to recommend?

In February the conservative Israeli newspaper Maariv claimed that Kerry's prospective peace plan would include the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. The Daily Telegraph explained that the plan would explicitly propose a two-state solution involving an Israeli state – referred to in the document as "the nation-state of the Jewish people" – sitting alongside a Palestinian state – referred to as the "nation-state of the Palestinian people".

But the Telegraph warned that the proposal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state could derail the whole process. Those fears appeared to have been realised last month, when the Arab League backed Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), in opposing any recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Abbas believes that such a move would marginalise Israel's 1.5 million Arab citizens. It would also effectively put an end to the claims of more than five million Palestinian refugees who maintain a "right of return", including many who fled during Israel's 1948 war of independence. That right is protected by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194, which states that refugees who wish to return to their homes "should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date".

Another potential stumbling block is the question of whether to return Israel to its pre-1967 borders – the armistice line drawn in 1949 at the close of the war triggered by Israel's declaration of statehood. The Maariv report suggests that this may be what Kerry's proposes, though he is also expected also to recommend limited land swaps to take into account "demographic changes."

The document is expected to gloss over a range of complicated issues, such as the status of Jerusalem and security provisions for the Jordan Valley, an area of the West Bank where Israel hopes to maintain a defensive buffer.

Why is Kerry important to negotiations?

Kerry has worked hard to gain the trust of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Both sides are able to express views to Kerry off the record that they cannot admit publically. Now that talks are underway, neither side will want to be held responsible for the collapse of negotiations, The Guardian reported back in January. But as the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships continue to pursue policies that antagonise one another, the peace process looks in danger of collapsing entirely.

What happened last time talks were held?

The Obama administration's first effort to initiate peace talks came in 2010, when Middle East envoy George Mitchell tried to host discussions, but his attempt stalled due to tensions over the continuing construction of Israeli settlements.

Prior to that, in 2007, a photo of US President George Bush shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas at the Annapolis Conference belied the summit's paltry gains. Both sides walked away with little more than a joint call for peace.

The Geneva Accord in 2003 had much more success in prescribing real changes – the solution drawn up by negotiators from both sides would have granted much of the West Bank to the Palestinians but control of the Western Wall in Jerusalem would remain with Israel. However, the proposals were never adopted. 

Similarly unsuccessful talks have become a regular occurrence since the end of the Middle East war in 1967, and in that time little has been achieved to reconcile the two sides. While there had been some hope surrounding the current peace talks, no one is expecting any miracles, and Kerry’s hopes of achieving a significant breakthrough look as slim as ever.

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