Palestinians move to join U.N. agencies, treaties

Israel refuses to release prisoners and halt settlement building in occupied Palestinian lands

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed Tuesday a decision to join 15 international agencies and treaties after Israel refused to release prisoners and halt settlement construction in the occupied Palestinian lands.

“The Palestinian leadership has unanimously approved a decision to seek membership of 15 U.N. agencies and international treaties, beginning with the Fourth Geneva Convention,” Abbas said on television after signing the demand during a meeting at his Ramallah headquarters.

“We are not against America who is helping us and we do not want to use this right to confront anyone and we will continue in negotiations,” Abbas added.

His remarks came after a meeting of senior Palestinian leadership to discuss their next course of action after peace talks with Israel appeared to falter.

Israel on Tuesday pushed tenders for building more than 700 settler homes in east Jerusalem as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited to salvage the crumbling peace talks.

“The ministry of housing is trying to forcefully undermine the peace process ... and [U.S. Secretary of State] John Kerry’s efforts to promote it,” charged Peace Now’s Hagit Ofran, confirming the tenders were for 708 homes in the Gilo settlement in Arab east Jerusalem, according to AFP.

Shortly after Abbas’ televised address, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry cancelled plans to travel Wednesday to Ramallah.

“We are no longer travelling tomorrow,” a senior State Department official said.

Kerry later told reporters that it was too early to draw conclusions about the prospects in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, saying “a lot of possibilities” were in play.

Kerry said Abbas had agreed to keep his promise to continue negotiating with Israel until the end of the month.

“Even tonight, both parties say they want to continue to find a way forward,” Kerry told reporters after meeting his NATO counterparts in Brussels to discuss the crisis in Ukraine.

Earlier reports suggested that Israel may impose a partial settlement freeze to keep U.S.-brokered peace talks with the Palestinians alive, an Israeli source close to the negotiations Told Reuters.

A halt to Israeli state-backed construction in the occupied West Bank would be part of a proposed package that includes the release of Jonathan Pollard, an Israeli spy jailed in the United States, and hundreds of Palestinians held by Israel.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, land captured in the 1967 war and which Palestinians seek for their state, have been a major stumbling block in the talks that began in July. Most countries view those settlements as illegal.

The source, who is close to talks held on Monday and Tuesday between Netanyahu and Kerry, said that in return for the Israeli steps, Palestinians would agree to extend the peace talks beyond an April 29 deadline into 2015.

Israel last imposed a partial settlement freeze in 2009 in a bid to restart negotiations. Palestinians returned to the talks in 2010 but they collapsed within weeks after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend the 10-month moratorium.

“The [new] settlement freeze does not include East Jerusalem, private construction or building of public institutions,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Another official involved in the negotiations said the Israeli government “will adopt a policy of restraint when it comes to state tenders for construction” in the West Bank.

There was no immediate Palestinian comment on the emerging deal.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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