Vice PM: Palestinian Preconditions Sabotage Direct Peace Talks

Speaking in meeting with Quartet Mideast envoy Tony Blair, Silvan Shalom says direct negotiations are the proper venue in which to present the sides' demands and claims.

Preconditions will cause the failure of direct Middle East peace talks, even before negotiations commence, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom told Quartet peace envoy Tony Blair on Monday.

Silvan Shalom Alberto Dankenberg April 27, 2010.
Alberto Dankenberg

Israel and the Palestinians accepted on Friday an invitation by the United States and other powers to restart direct talks on Sept. 2 in a modest step toward forging a peace deal within 12 months to create a Palestinian state and peacefully end one of the world's most intractable conflicts.

Earlier Monday, Haaretz reported that PA President Mahmoud Abbas had warned that renewed Israeli construction in settlements after the end of the construction freeze in late September would bring the newly-launched direct negotiations to a grinding halt.

Abbas conveyed the message in letters sent to U.S. President Barack Obama, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and the High Representative of the European Union on Foreign Policy, Catherine Ashton.

In a possible reference to Palestinian demands over West Bank settlement construction, Shalom told Blair during their Monday meeting that Israel was "pleased about the renewal of direct negotiations with the Palestinians," but adding that preconditions could cause an early end to such an attempt.

"It must be understood that setting preconditions even before the sides had a chance to sit at the negotiations table will bring about the failure of those talks," the vice PM said, adding that late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "never presented preconditions and Abbas never demanded it from Olmert."

"The Palestinians must recognize the importance of direct talks where the two sides can present the demands and claims," Shalom said.

Referring to a Palestinian demand to purchase more electricity from Israel in order to alleviate the Strip's energy crisis, Shalom said that such a move would only strengthen Hamas' rule.

"I expect the international community to pressure Hamas into accepting the Quartet's conditions," Shalom said, adding that he saw "Hamas as responsible for the Gazans' distress."

"Israel cannot afford to cooperate with a terror organization that seeks its destruction," the vice prime minister said.

Earlier Monday, the Palestinian Ma'an news agency quoted Hamas' Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh as saying that The Palestinian people would gain nothing from direct Middle East peace talks with Israel.

Speaking at a Gaza Strip mosque, Haniyeh said that the scheduled negotiations would not restore Palestinians' rights or give them control over religious sites, saying that they "should trust God, who will be an ally of the Palestinians."

According to the Ma'an report, Haniyeh also praised the steadfastness of the Palestinian people in the face of Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, saying the Palestinians were a "model for the Arab nations and Islamic countries."