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August 2, 2013 11:31 am

Report: Israel Will Continue to Build Settlements – Negotiation Source

avatar by Joshua Levitt

A neighbourhood in Ariel, Israel.

Israeli and Palestinian Authority negotiators engaged in the current round of peace talks have come to the understanding that Israel will continue to build in settlements, but “very slowly” anywhere east of the barrier, Israel’s Walla News reported, citing two unnamed sources involved in the peace talks.

One source said American mediators are making a point to keep any mention of the continued construction from any formal announcements to avoid political pressure for either side, and are insisting that any statements from Israel be kept “very low profile” so as not to embarrass Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

This week, peace talks resumed after a three-year hiatus on Monday evening and Tuesday in Washington. Middle East analysts praised the work that went into securing the first meeting, the result of a marathon six months of shuttle diplomacy by US Secretary of State John Kerry, but were skeptical as to what could ultimately be achieved.

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A major hurdle will be to negotiate an agreement on borders. The Walla News source said the starting point for the discussions would be based on formulating “changes, adjustments and exchanges of territory in relation to the 1967 lines.”

The source said the American mediators “were and remain” committed to the Green Line as a basis for talks, based on a speech delivered by US President Barack Obama, in May 2011. “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states,” Obama said at the time.

The source said what was discussed this week in Washington were “mostly technical issues and even ceremonial points; there was no discussion on core issues.” However, the source added, at the next round of talks – slated to open on August 14 in Jerusalem – the parties will begin to “talk business.”

A second source cited in the article said that most rounds of talks will be held in the Middle East – Jerusalem, Ramallah, or Amman, if necessary – and that the U.S. point-man for the talks, Ambassador Martin Indyk, will stay permanently in Israel.

As for Israel’s offer to release 104 Palestinian convicts as a sign of good faith, Walla News reported that Palestinian sources expect the first group of prisoners to be freed before Indyk arrives in Israel, soon after Eid al-Fitr, a celebration to mark the end of Ramadan, beginning on the evening of August 7.

Looking further ahead, the sources said the Israeli side was pleased to hear that if the negotiations were to last nine months, as Kerry predicted on Tuesday, the likelihood that the Palestinian Authority will take unilateral steps against Israel at the United Nations and the International Court in The Hague would be very low through May 2014.

They were also content to learn from US officials speaking on background to reporters that the stated purpose of the negotiations was to lead to the establishment of two states “that will both have international mutual recognition,” suggesting that the Palestinian Authority and the Arab world will be forced to “recognize” Israel as a Jewish state, the key demand made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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