Israel’s Livni calls for direct talks with Palestinians

Tzipi Livni's remarks came on the eve of a three-way meeting with her Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erakat

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Israel's chief negotiator called on Saturday for direct talks with the Palestinians, as attempts continue to prevent the collapse of peace negotiations.

Tzipi Livni's remarks came on the eve of a three-way meeting with her Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erakat and U.S. envoy Martin Indyk, officials close to the talks said. Indyk met the two separately on Friday.

The developments come as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that there were “limits” to the time and energy Washington could devote to the process, adding it was time for a “reality check.”

He said Washington would review its push for a peace deal after a spiral of tit-for-tat moves by Israel and the Palestinians took the hard-won negotiations close to collapse.

The top U.S. diplomat received the backing of European foreign ministers, who on Saturday said they fully supported his efforts.

“We support the efforts of Secretary of State Kerry,” EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said at the close of a two-day meeting in Athens.

Kerry, who has engaged in more than a year of vigorous shuttle diplomacy, had spoken to both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders Thursday in a bid to bring the two sides back from the brink.

But Livni told Channel 2 television that the “intensive” U.S. involvement in the talks might have got in between the actual sides in conflict.

The Americans should remain involved but “as those who help negotiations and bilateral talks, rather than as their replacement,” she said.

“I think we need to advance to more meetings and direct negotiations than there were till now, I think the Americans realise this as well,” she said.

“We need bilateral meetings between us, including between the Prime Minister (Benjamin Netanyahu) and (Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas) Abu Mazen,” she said.

Abbas rejected Kerry's appeals to withdraw applications he signed Tuesday to adhere to 15 international treaties, a Palestinian official said.

And Netanyahu ignored appeals to refrain from tit-for-tat moves, asking officials to draw up a range of tough reprisals, Israeli media reported.

Israel says Abbas's move is a clear breach of his commitment from when peace talks were relaunched in July to pursue no other avenues for recognition of their promised state.

The Palestinians say Israel had already reneged on its own commitments by failing to release a fourth and final batch of prisoners last weekend, and the treaty move was their response.

But Livni insisted on Saturday that the release was delayed only because of the Palestinian demand that the prisoners to be freed include Arab Israelis.

That, she told Channel 2, would necessitate a new framework.

“I clarified to the Americans and the Palestinians we wouldn't release Israeli prisoners unless it were under a different context,” she said.

“That's why we wanted to create this (framework), which among other things included the extension of negotiations,” she said.

Livni said the Palestinians “decided not to wait any longer” and went ahead with applications for international treaties -- a move she described as “a violation and big mistake”.

Livni stressed, however, that Israel would continue peace efforts, since “the current condition isn't one we can sustain”.

“We don't have the privilege to just fume,” she said. “In the end, a Palestinian state will be established through negotiations.”