Palestinians to pursue Israel at UN if talks fail

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — With no signs of progress in U.S attempts to restart peace talks with Israel, the chief Palestinian negotiator said Tuesday that the West Bank government is ready to resume its campaign to join U.N. and other international bodies in order to prosecute Israel.

The remarks by Saeb Erekat came ahead of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip to the region next week for consultations. The trip will be the fifth to the area since Kerry took office early this year and promised to launch a fresh effort to restart negotiations.

Talks collapsed nearly five years ago over the issue of construction in Jewish settlements built in captured areas Palestinians claim for a future state. Palestinians say they will not talk until construction in settlements is stopped.

Israel says settlements, along with other core issues, should be resolved in peace talks and that negotiations should begin immediately.

The Palestinians claim the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip for their state. Israel captured the three areas in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. The Palestinians say the pre-1967 lines should be the baseline for talks on a final border.

While Israel’s current government rejects a return to the 1967 lines, the international community has overwhelmingly endorsed the Palestinian position. Last fall, the Palestinians won recognition in the U.N. General Assembly as a nonmember state in the territories captured by Israel in 1967.

This upgraded status, though largely symbolic, gave the Palestinians an upgraded diplomatic status that allows them access to key U.N. bodies. The move was condemned by the U.S and Israel, who viewed it as an attempt to bypass negotiations for an agreement.

A main Israeli concern is that the Palestinians will seek membership in the International Criminal Court, where they will press war crimes charges against Israel.

Kerry has urged both sides to avoid provocative measures, telling Israel to curtail settlement construction and the Palestinians to put their campaign for international recognition on hold.

Speaking to international diplomats Tuesday, Erekat blamed the Israelis for the lack of progress, citing Israel’s refusal to accept the 1967 lines as the basis for talks. The Palestinians say the final border can be slightly modified through negotiated land swaps in order for Israel to keep some of its settlements. Two such proposals by previous Israeli governments failed to result in a peace accord.

“We want to negotiate. We have given Mr. Kerry our maps and answered him every question he asked,” Erekat said.

He warned that the Palestinians’ patience is wearing thin.

“We have the full right of our instrument of access to all U.N. agencies. And those who worry about international courts should stop committing crimes,” he said. “It took us six months to prepare, but I can say now that all our instruments of accession are ready.”

Israeli officials refused to comment on Erekat’s threat.

Kerry has not set a formal deadline for reaching a framework for peace talks, but he has signaled that he will float a formal proposal in the coming weeks.

In a speech to American Jewish leaders in Washington on Monday, Kerry warned that time was running thin.

“Resolving this conflict for both sides can have far-reaching benefits that will be in everybody’s interest. And the reverse is also true: Not resolving this will result in serious consequences for both,” he said.

Echoing Kerry’s warnings, the outgoing head of the Bank of Israel, Stanley Fischer, urged the government to do its utmost to pursue peace, saying the current state of conflict and heavy defense expenditures were hurting the economy. “We must also try to find other solutions, and try to achieve a peace agreement with our neighbors, including with the Palestinians,” Fischer told a parliamentary committee.

The comments Monday were unusual because Fischer rarely wades into politics. Fischer, an internationally respected U.S.-educated economist, steps down this month after eight years as head of Israel’s central bank.

Fischer criticized Israelis who say that there is no Palestinian partner for peace. “We must look for the partners for peace. Until we reach agreements, it will cost us more since we will need to reinforce our readiness,” he said.

Fischer said Israel would benefit from a peace accord. “We must, therefore, find a way to act more proactively in order to stop the conflict that has continued here for far too long,” he said.

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