Israel, Palestinians Trade Blame for Stalled Peace Talks

Abbas: Israel blocking road to peace; Israel criticizes Palestinian preconditions for peace talks.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority blamed each other on Saturday for the failure of George Mitchell, the U.S. envoy to the Middle East, to secure a deal this week for the resumption of peace negotiations.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was quoted by AFP as saying on Saturday that "the road is now blocked," after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had refused to agree to a complete halt to construction in West Bank settlements.

But shortly afterward Israel's Foreign Ministry accused the Palestinians of actually being the ones responsible for the stalled peace talks.

"The Palestinian Authority is that which is preventing such a meeting and the renewal of the diplomatic process by setting preconditions," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levy in a statement, referring to a possible meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas. "These are conditions that the Palestinian Authority did not set for previous Israeli governments.

Levy noted that since the establishment of the government some five months ago, Israel has been willing to meet with the PA to renew the peace talks without preconditions.

"Israel believes that it is fitting for all parties to put preconditions aside and meet, in order to advance peace," he added.

On Friday, Mitchell shuttled between Netanyahu and Abbas, after meeting both leaders earlier this week.

Senior Israeli officials said Friday's talks were a total failure. They blamed this on a lack of Palestinian "flexibility" in their negotiating positions, noting that Israel offered to freeze West Bank settlement construction for 9 months.

Abbas, however, said it was up to Israel now to clear the way for peace negotiations, adding that Mitchell would resume talks with the sides after next week's United Nations General Assembly.

"There is no more work [for Mitchell] with the Western or Palestinian sides because we are complying with all our duties," he was quoted as saying after a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. "The focus has to be on the Israeli side."

Later Saturday, Abbas met with Jordan's King Abdullah II for discussions on the peace process. The two leaders subsequently urged the international community to prevent Israel from "derailing peace efforts" by insisting on the continuation of settlement activity, according to a royal court statement.

"The two leaders believe that the world community must now shoulder its responsibilities by preventing Israel from derailing current efforts aimed at relaunching serious and effective negotiations that lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state," the statement said.

Merkel: Israel may announce temporary settlement freeze this fall

Earlier Saturday, the London-based Arabic language daily Al Hayat reported that German Chancellor Angela Merkel believes that Israel will announce a temporary settlement freeze this fall.

During a press conference, Merkel was asked by an Al Hayat correspondent to comment on the issue of West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements, which many believe to be the major obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace, to which she replied that she was "not without hope regarding progress, specifically this fall."

Merkel stressed that following her meeting with Netanyahu in Berlin last month she did not lose hope and that she believed that the matter required time and patience.

The German chancellor was also asked why Israel was so adamant about the Palestinians recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, and whether she thought that this would adversely affect the Arabs living in Israel. Merkel replied "in Germany we also talk about a German state, while refraining from discrimination against anyone from different heritage."

"The goal is to define the majority without placing a question mark over the 1.5 million people of Arab descent," Merkel added. "When a future Palestinian state is established on the basis of mutual understanding I will be pleased as well."

Merkel also addressed the report issued by the UN's Goldstone Commission, which accused Israel of multiple war crimes during its offensive against hamas in Gaza last winter, saying that it was nothing to get worked up about. She suggested looking to the future and investing efforts in preventing such clashes from arising again.