Talks renew, Obama will ‘hold accountable’ violators


JERUSALEM (JTA) – The Obama administration said it would "hold accountable" Israel or the Palestinians should either side undermine trust during renewed peace negotiations.

U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in a statement released Sunday that the first round of indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians mediated by the United States had been completed.

The opening of the so-called proximity talks were "serious and wide-ranging," he said.

Israel had agreed not to build in the ultra-Orthodox eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo for the next two years and the Palestinian leadership promised to work against incitement, Crowley said.

"As both parties know, if either takes significant actions during the proximity talks that we judge would seriously undermine trust, we will respond to hold them accountable and ensure that negotiations continue," his statement said.

The Obama administration strongly protested Israel’s announcement in March of the Ramat Shlomo project. Reports in recent weeks have suggested that the Obama administration would not veto a U.N. Security Council resolution criticizing such building were Israel to start building.

This tactic — abstaining from narrowly framed resolutions criticizing Israel, but not vetoing them — has been an infrequent but not unusual tactic of previous U.S. administrations. The George W. Bush administration used it several times, including in its final days when the Security Council called for an end to the 2009 Gaza war.

The construction plans in Ramat Shlomo, announced in March during a visit to Israel by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, are still in the early stages. Construction likely would not have begun in any case for at least two years, according to reports. 

The peace talks began Sunday a day after the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee approved the talks for four months. They are the first peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians in 18 months.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking Sunday at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting, welcomed the PA’s decision to begin the talks. He said the talks were taking place without preconditions, as the Israelis had insisted on during the past year, and that they must "quickly lead to direct talks."

"Peace cannot be made from a distance or by remote control, especially given that we and the Palestinians are neighbors," Netanyahu said.

The Obama administration reportedly told PA President Mahmoud Abbas that it will not present a U.S. peace plan until the two sides begin direct peace talks.

U.S. Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell met Sunday with Abbas before returning to the United States after a week in which he met twice each with Netanyahu and Abbas. Mitchell reportedly plans to return to the region in 10 days.

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