Palestinians warn settlement plan will cloud talks

A0789876.jpgIsrael’s plan to build houses on occupied land near Jerusalem will cloud renewed peace talks, the Palestinian Authority said on Sunday, the day before an international aid conference opens in Paris.The one-day meeting is the financial follow-up to a U.S.-sponsored conference in Annapolis last month which relaunched formal peace talks with the goal of reaching an agreement on Palestinian statehood by the end of 2008.

“The Paris meeting tomorrow is an important step forward. We hope the Israelis will not put any obstacles in front of the understandings of Annapolis,” Palestinian spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah told reporters on Sunday after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

“We need a clear-cut Israeli decision concerning this (settlement) issue, which is very sensitive and important to the Palestinians. This issue is going to reflect itself, whether positively or negatively, in the coming negotiations,” he said.

The conference on Monday aims to raise almost $6 billion for the Palestinian government, strengthening the position of Abbas who holds sway in the occupied West Bank after Hamas Islamists took control of the Gaza Strip in June.

The Israelis and Palestinians held their first formal peace negotiations in seven years on December 12 but the talks were marred by Palestinian anger over Israel’s decision, announced the week after Annapolis, to build 300 homes in occupied east Jerusalem.

A further round of negotiations is scheduled for December 23.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States had no advance knowledge of Israel’s decision about the homes and the dispute was “ever more reason that it’s time to get an agreement” between the two sides.

The U.S. State Department said on Sunday Washington would pledge more than $550 million in Palestinian aid.


“There is an assumption here that there is not going to be turbulence in this process. There is. I don’t care how much you talk to people before, I don’t care how much work you do. There will be turbulence,” Rice told reporters as she flew to Paris.

“I don’t intend to, and I hope that they don’t intend to, consider every bump in the road to be a barrier,” she said.

Israel’s plans to build the houses in an area known to Israelis as Har Homa and Palestinians as Abu Ghneim is just one of a number of outstanding sticking points.

The World Bank, which will attend the Paris meeting along with around 90 delegations, said last week aid would not be enough to revive the Palestinian economy if Israel did not lift trade and travel restrictions on Palestinians.

Israel has so far balked at removing checkpoints that criss-cross the occupied West Bank, citing security concerns.

It has also tightened its military and economic cordon around Gaza after Hamas seized control.

Speaking on Israel Radio, Livni said the economic well-being of Palestinians had to be seen alongside Israeli security concerns.

“I expect the world to understand the two things are two sides of the same equation,” she said.

France said on Sunday it could host more talks between the two sides after Monday’s donors meeting.

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