Holy Land: peace talks break down as Israel refuses to end illegal expansion

William Hague

William Hague

The British Government, the EU, the UN, Russia and the Arab League have  all protested today over Israel's refusal to halt illegal settlement construction, which has brought peace talks to a halt.  

Israel and the Palestinians began the latest round of peace talks on 2 September at a White House ceremony. But less than a month later, negotiations have now broken down because Israel refused to extend a 10-month-old freeze on  illegal West Bank housing projects.

American officials tried to persuade Israel to extend a limited West Bank settlement freeze for 90 days, offering a series of security and diplomatic incentives. But the negotiations have broken down and US officials announced that they had abandoned that approach.

The news has been greeted with concern around the world. Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief said:  "I note with regret that Israel has not been in a position to accept an extension of the (settlement) moratorium, as requested by the US, the EU and the Quartet."

"The EU position on settlements is clear: They are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace. Recent settlement-related developments, including in east Jerusalem, contradict efforts by the international community for successful negotiations," she said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he regretted that:  "that Israel will not heed the united call of the international community, as reflected by the Quartet, to extend the settlement restraint policy."

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said: "In spite of this setback, the secretary-general believes it is more important than ever to promote a negotiated endgame for a two-state solution."

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said today:  "I am disappointed that Israel has not renewed the freeze on settlement construction and that peace talks are currently on hold. It is Britain’s longstanding view that settlements are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace.

"I spoke to US Envoy Senator Mitchell to underline Britain’s support for work to find a way forward. The leadership of the United States remains vital.

"There is an urgent need for progress to secure a two state solution, based on 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the future capital of two states and with a fair settlement for refugees. This is important for Israelis, for Palestinians and for the international community including the UK.

"We will continue to work with the United States, the parties to the conflict and with our EU and UN partners to achieve a two state solution. In addition, we will continue to press for an end to all settlement activity."

Meanwhile, the Vatican today announced that negotiations over the position of the Catholic Church in Palestinian Territories are going ahead "in a cordial atmosphere".
In a statement the Vatican said: "Talks between the Holy See and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) resumed this morning at the Headquarters of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in Ramallah, following the Basic Agreement signed in 2000.

"The talks aimed at a comprehensive international agreement regulating and promoting the presence and activities of the Catholic Church in the Palestinian Territories, so strengthening the special relations between the Holy See and the PLO.

"The talks were co-chaired by Msgr. Ettore Balestrero, under secretary for the Holy See's relations with States, and Ziad Al-Bandak, the president's advisor for Christian relations. The talks were held in a cordial atmosphere.

"Both sides agreed on establishing a working group to elaborate the aforementioned comprehensive agreement.

"The Holy See delegation was composed of Archbishop Antonio Franco, apostolic delegate to Jerusalem and Palestine; Bishop Salim Sayegh, vicar general of the Latin Patriarchate in Amman; Msgr Maurizio Malvestiti, under secretary of the Congregation for Oriental Churches; Msgr Alberto Ortega, official of the Holy See Secretariat of State; Msgr Waldemar Sommertag, counsellor of the apostolic delegation in Jerusalem; Ghassan Faramand, legal advisor, and Fr Emil Salayta, president of the ecclesiastical tribunal court in Jerusalem.

"The Palestinian delegation was composed of Nabil Shath, member of the PLO central committee; Nimer Hamad, presidential advisor; Ambassador Shawqi Armali; Ramzi Khouri, head of the Palestinian National Fund, Bernard Sabella, member of the PLC, and lssa Kassissieh, deputy head of the Negotiations Affairs Department".

Source: VIS/Foreign Office/ICN

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