Israeli Occupation, Settlements Are Impeding Mideast Peace, Erekat Says

Top Palestinian official rejects comments by Quartet envoy Tony Blair, according to which the Arab Spring was complicating the peace process, saying that it is Israel's policies that hinder talks' resumption.

Israel is impeding efforts to achieve Middle East peace, Saeb Erekat, the former chief Palestinian negotiator said on Monday, rejecting comments by Quartet envoy Tony Blair, according to which the so called Arab Spring was destabilizing the region and harming the peace process.

On Sunday, Blair was quoted as saying that Arab pro-democracy could complicate peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians, saying that it "is a great thing that people are wanting democracy, but in the short term there is reduced stability in the region so that can pose problems for Israel and the peace process."

Erekat - AP - May 1, 2010

"Because of the instability and uncertainty in the region, it's right that we grip the peace process and put it back on track again," the Quartet envoy added.

Speaking to Palestinian radio on Monday, however, Erekat rejected Blair's critisim, placing the blame for the lack of Mideast peace progress squarely on Israel's shoulders.

"It is the Israeli occupation which is impeding peace and democracy," Erekat was quoted by the Ma'an news agency as saying, adding that the Palestinian side remains committed to all international guidelines and terms of the Quartet's roadmap for peace.

The top Palestinian official was quoted by Ma'an as saying that Israel's publishing of new settlement plans and its disregard for peace process guidelines were the reasons Mideast peace has yet to be achieved.

Erekat's comments came as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman attacked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' conduct, calling his the "greatest obstacle" to the peace process.

"If there is one obstacle that should be removed immediately, it is [Abbas]," he said. "If he were to return the keys and resign, it would not be a threat, but a blessing."

"The only thing that interests Abbas is to inscribe himself in the history books as he who brought about the Palestinian state and the reconciliation with Hamas," Lieberman added. "Anyone who succeeds him would be better for Israel. If Abu Mazen goes, there would be a chance to reignite the peace process."

Referring to the report in Haaretz earlier Monday regarding the defense establishment's recommendation that Israel release Fatah prisoners as a gesture to Abbas, Lieberman said he had never heard of such a proposal and would oppose the move vehemently.

"I don't know of any such recommendation, and I completely oppose every gesture," he said. "I would not agree in any way if recommendations such as these were brought to cabinet."