Israel to Palestinians: How Can We Make Peace if You Won't Talk to Us?

Government spokesman Mark Regev urges the Palestinian leadership to rid itself of the 'mirage' that there can be any alternative to a negotiated agreement.

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Israel urged the Palestinian leadership on Wednesday to set aside a diplomatic campaign that was keeping the Middle East peace process at an impasse and get back instead to direct talks.

"There is no doubt that the [peace] process is currently in an impasse," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev told BBC Radio in a London broadcast.

Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.Credit: AP

"It's clear unfortunately that the Palestinian leadership has adopted a policy where they refuse to engage directly with Israel. And I would ask them; 'How do you expect to make peace with Israel unless you're willing to talk to Israel?'"

Regev said it was a "mirage" to think there was any alternative to a negotiated peace agreement.

But chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said talks with Israel, which stalled three months ago with the expiry of an Israeli moratorium on settlement building in the occupied West Bank, were at a dead-end, and other options would be pursued.

Among them is a diplomatic drive to win recognition of Palestinian statehood from as many UN member states as possible. Brazil, Argentina and several other Latin American states recently accorded recognition to Palestine.

"We don't need negotiations anymore," Erekat said, who repeatedly reminds parties involved that the process has been going on for 17 years since the interim Oslo accords of 1993.

"Now it's time for decisions and the decisions are required from leaders," he said. The terms of reference for an eventual peace accord should be set by the Quartet of powers engaged in the process - the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, Erekat added.

"Secondly, we want the Security Council to seek a second resolution concerning the Israeli continued settlement activity asking for a freeze, so we can continue the negotiations," he said.

Such a resolution could go to the Council later this month, according to Palestinian reports.

Thirdly, said Erekat, "We are requesting from the nations, on air, to accept the state of Palestine of '67 - that's what we're trying to achieve."

Regev said a unilateral move by the Palestinians would not serve the cause of a genuine peace deal to end the 62-year-old conflict and settle all claims.

"It was two decades ago, in 1988, that Yasser Arafat declared an independent Palestinian state and he got countries -- Third-World countries, communist countries, others -- to recognize that state and I would ask the Palestinians what did that recognition give them? Did it change anything on the ground?" he said.

Over 100 countries have recognized a Palestinian state. But the mere fact of recognition has had scant impact on the continuing conflict. Palestinian officials nevertheless say they hope Chile will add its name to the list soon and are hoping Mexico will do the same later in the year.

Their ultimate goal is not yet clear, but the Palestinian leadership would like to see a majority of UN members on their side by the next UN General Assembly in September.

Israel warns that any renewed unilateral declaration of statehood in the absence of a negotiated treaty would be a highly counter-productive move.

"My prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has said publicly that he is willing to do another freeze [on settlements] but he said it cannot be in a vacuum," Regev said.

"In other words, we are asking for give and take, we are asking for the peace process to be a two-way street and I ask the Palestinians: 'What are you willing to give to make this process succeed?"

Quartet envoy Tony Blair says suspended peace talks, whether direct or indirect, must get back on track very soon.

"I think it's measured in weeks not months," he told the BBC program. "We've got to give shape to the negotiation ... we've got to try and see: Okay, we agree on the principle of the two-state solution, but what does that really mean?"

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