US admits setback in Mideast peace talks push
Ramallah: Palestinian politicians rebuffed on Thursday a hard-fought peace blueprint thrashed out by US Secretary of State John Kerry with president Mahmud Abbas in a major blow to his marathon peace efforts.
A US official acknowledged that Kerry was now unlikely to be able to announce a resumption of direct peace negotiations with the Palestinians despite extending until tomorrow his sixth visit to the region in as many months.
The setback came from the governing Revolutionary Council of Abbas`s own Fatah movement before it had even been put to the wider Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which includes dissident factions.
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.
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 the occupied territories, 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 on Tuesday and Wednesday 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 rejection by the leadership of Abbas`s own Fatah movement of the blueprint meant that its planned referral to the leadership of the PLO, which also includes leftist factions more hostile to a compromise, was likely to be put on hold.
The US State Department acknowledged that Kerry`s efforts had suffered a setback despite their endorsement by senior Arab diplomats.
"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.
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