US in last-ditch bid to broker Mid-East deal
A SENIOR Palestinian leader warned yesterday that the US faced its last chance to broker a lasting peace in the Middle East as Joe Biden, the US Vice-President, flew in to try to jump-start indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
His mission had hit a snag even before his aircraft touched down in Tel Aviv, when Israel announced the construction of 112 new apartments in a West Bank settlement, defying calls for a building freeze in the occupied territories.
The new units will be built in the Beitar Illit settlement -- angering Palestinians who only the day before had reluctantly agreed to US-brokered, indirect talks with Israel.
Reflecting the deep gloom into which Mr Biden was heading, the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said that the talks were a last chance for a deal and that Israel appeared to be set on undermining it. "The relationship has deteriorated to this stage where the US is trying to save this peace process with the last attempt at mediation", he said.
Even as George Mitchell, the special US envoy to the region, met Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, Mr Erekat warned that the Palestinians might yet back out of the talks with the right-wing Israeli government.
The Palestinian leadership has refused to talk to Israel as long as settlement growth continues. Washington has been unable to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to enforce a total freeze in the West Bank.
Peace Now, an Israeli group that monitors settlement growth, said that the new expansion meant that "the Israeli government is welcoming the vice-president by demonstrating, to our regret, that it has no genuine intention to advance the peace process". (© The Times, London)