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Palestinians rebuff US peace talks blueprint

July 18, 2013 7:15 P.M. (Updated: July 19, 2013 12:46 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (AFP) -- Palestinian politicians rebuffed on Thursday a hard-fought blueprint for resumed talks with Israel thrashed out by US Secretary of State John Kerry in a blow to his marathon peace efforts.

A US official had warned that Kerry was unlikely to be able to announce any breakthrough on resuming direct peace negotiations with the Palestinians despite extending until Friday his sixth visit to the region in as many months.

The setback for the US plan came from the governing Revolutionary Council of Abbas's own Fatah movement, which demanded changes.

MP Mustafa Barghuti said that "most factions" within the Palestine Liberation Organization had rejected Kerry's proposal.

"During the leadership meeting... most of the Palestinian factions... rejected restarting peace talks based on Kerry's proposals," he said.

On Wednesday, Kerry himself had hailed movement towards an agreement on ending the three-year hiatus in talks after his proposals were endorsed by Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi and senior Gulf Arab diplomats.

But even he had acknowledged that there were still differences over "terminology".

His plan would have seen Israel, now ruled by a coalition that has tilted sharply to the right after elections early this year, make only a tacit commitment to slow settlement construction in Palestine, not the publicly announced freeze long demanded by Abbas.

A senior Fatah official said the party wanted changes to what Abbas had agreed.

"Fatah wants to make some alterations to Kerry's plan... because the proposed ideas are not encouraging for a return to negotiations," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The announcement came after two rounds of intensive talks between Kerry and Abbas, who is also Fatah leader.

It was the top US diplomat's sixth visit to the region since he took office in February to try to broker a compromise to allow a resumption of direct peace talks that have been frozen by Israel's refusal to agree to a new suspension of settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank.

Israel had rejected Palestinian demands for a publicly stated freeze to all settlement construction in the occupied territories as a condition for resuming talks, and Abbas and his negotiating team had referred the idea to his party leadership of an undeclared moratorium.

The US State Department acknowledged that Kerry was unlikely to be able to announce a breakthrough on his latest visit.

"There are currently no plans for an announcement on the resumption of negotiations," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

Kerry had appeared to be making headway after Israeli army radio said Israel was preparing to lift some restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank.

"It appears that in the next few days the future of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will be determined," army radio's reporter for the Palestinian territories said.

"In the light of security assessments, two roads in the territories are expected shortly to be opened to Palestinian traffic; one north of Ramallah and one close to Beit Haggai," he added of a settlement near the southern West Bank city of Hebron.

Kerry had been hopeful of progress on Wednesday.

"Through hard and deliberate, patient work, and most importantly through quiet work, we have been able to narrow those gaps very significantly," he told reporters.

"We continue to get closer and I continue to be hopeful that the two sides will come to sit at the same table."

Kerry's latest peace bid came against the backdrop of Israeli anger at new European Union guidelines for its 28 member states that will block all funding of, or dealings with, Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday called Kerry and warned that the EU was "damaging efforts to restart the talks".

The EU's office in Israel said on Thursday that Kerry, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Netanyahu all called European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso on Wednesday night to discuss the guidelines.

It said in a statement that the EU is ready to negotiate with Israel regarding their planned entry into force from January 1 next year.

"Following a request from Israeli authorities the EU stands ready to engage in consultations on their implementation," the statement said.

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