Jordan and Egypt Accuse Israel of 'Derailing' Peace Efforts

Netanyahu: Palestinians must get a grip, move toward talks; Clinton: Israeli concessions 'unprecedented.'

Leaders of Jordan and Egypt on Sunday warned that Israel's unilateral actions in East Jerusalem and other Arab areas were "derailing" efforts aimed at resuming peace negotiations with the Palestinians, and would thereby have a "catastrophic" effect on the region.

The remarks came in a joint communique issued at the end of a whirlwind visit to Cairo by Jordan's King Abdullah II where he held talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, according to Jordan's official Petra news agency.

The two leaders discussed the "catastrophic consequences on the region's stability and security resulting from the failure to seize the current opportunity for making peace," the statement said.]

Abdullah and Mubarak "stressed the need for an immediate cessation of Israeli unilateral actions, particularly the building of settlements and jeopardising the identity of Jerusalem and holy places, which could only derail the chances of peaces."

The leaders of the only two Arab states to conclude official peace treaties with Israel so far echoed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' rejection of a fresh appeal by U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton to resume peace negotiations before Israel stopped all forms of settlement construction.

Clinton met with Abbas in Dubai on Saturday to review the latest efforts to ensure re-launching peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The leaders of Jordan and Egypt in their statement urged the world ommunity anew to intensify efforts with a view to finding a solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict based on the two-state vision through "serious negotiations."

Palestinians: U.S. keeping peace process paralyzed

Pointing an accusing finger at the United States, the Palestinians on Sunday said Washington's backing for Israeli refusal to halt Jewish settlement expansion had killed any hope of reviving peace negotiations soon.

On a one-day regional visit on Saturday, Clinton endorsed Israel's view that settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank should not be a bar to resuming negotiations - contradicting the Palestinian position.

"The negotiations are in a state of paralysis, and the result of Israel's intransigence and America's back-peddling is that there is no hope of negotiations on the horizon," said Abbas' spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah.

He said the Palestinians were calling for the Arab League to formulate a "unified Palestinian-Arab position" on the stalled peace process.

Abu Rdainah on Saturday dismissed Clinton's statement that Israel is making "unprecedented" concessions on West Bank settlement construction.

"There can be no excuse for the continuation of settlements, which is really the main obstacle in the way of any credible peace process," he said.

Netanyahu: Palestinians should get a grip

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday hit out at the Palestinian Authority over its demand for a complete Israeli settlement freeze before embarking on any fresh peace talks, saying he hoped the Palestinians would "get a grip" and drop this precondition.

"We've done things that have not been done until today, although while we are taking steps toward negotiations, we have encountered preconditions demanded by the Palestinian side, which were never demanded before," Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

"Beginning negotiations is important to us, but it is no less important to the Palestinians. We are committed to negotiations, and we hope that the Palestinians will lift the precondition," said Netanyahu.

The prime minister also told the cabinet that Clinton had decided that U.S. President Barack Obama's Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, would extend his current visit to the region by a number of days in order to bridge the differences between the sides.

Israel is making a concerted effort to renew the peace talks, Netanyahu said.

Clinton: Israel making unprecedented concessions

During a press conference on Saturday night with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Clinton said: "What the Prime Minister has offered in specifics of a restraint on the policy of settlements which he has just described - no new starts for example, is unprecedented in the context of prior-to negotiations."

She also said a freeze in settlement building had not been a condition for peace talks in the past and urged both sides to resume talks now.

But Abbas' spokesman Abu Rdainah said following the comments: "A settlement freeze and acknowledging the terms of reference is the only way towards peace negotiations. Settlement is illegitimate and it is not possible to accept any justification for the continuation of the settlement activity or to defend it in the lands occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem."

Meanwhile, the spokesman for the Palestinian militant group Hamas, Sami Abu Zuhri, said Saturday the U.S. could not effectively engage in peacemaking while ignoring Hamas, and said Clinton's visit was "destined to fail."

During the press conference, Netanyahu said Israel was ready to start talks right away and that the Palestinians could bring their objections about settlements to the negotiating table.

"What we should do on the path to peace is get on it and get with it," he said.

The prime minister also blasted the Palestinian demand for a settlement freeze.

"But this is a new demand, it's a change of policy - of the Palestinian policy and it doesn't do much for peace - it doesn't work to advance negotiations," Netanyahu said. "It actually is used as a pretext... as an obstacle that prevents the re-establishment of negotiations."