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Israel imposing agenda on Mideast talks — Palestinians

By AFP - Jan 16,2014 - Last updated at Jan 16,2014

RAMALLAH — A top Palestinian leader Thursday accused Israel of imposing its own agenda onto Washington’s Middle East peace push, pressing issues that overshadowed Palestinian demands.

The remarks by senior Fateh Party member Nabil Shaath came after US Secretary of State John Kerry’s 10th visit to the region to try to push a framework for final status talks as an April deadline for the negotiations loomed.

“Israel has succeeded in really persuading Mr Kerry to change the agenda of the discussions,” Shaath told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

“Today, you will see Mr Kerry going back and forth, discussing nothing but two issues. The two issues have never been in our agenda: The Jewishness of the state and [security in] the Jordan [Valley],” he said.

Palestinian leaders refuse to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, fearing this could preclude the right of return for Palestinian refugees who left or were driven into exile when the state of Israel was created in 1948.

Another sticking point in talks is security arrangements in the Jordan Valley, where the West Bank borders Jordan, under any future peace agreement.

Israel insists on maintaining a long-term military presence in the Jordan Valley as a buffer against attacks on Israel, but the Palestinians want an international security force deployed there for their own security.

Shaath said Kerry was being forced to hammer out the two issues as other crucial points — such as the borders of a future Palestinian state — were being overlooked.

“They [Israelis] force the agenda on [Kerry]; they will not talk about anything else.”

“It is a narrative problem that is taking most of the time of Mr Kerry,” he said.

“You think any Palestinian leader in his right mind can ever accept this?” Shaath said of recognising Israel as a Jewish state.

“Or is this simply instated to make it impossible for any Palestinian leader to sign a peace agreement with Israel?”

The peace talks have in recent months focused specifically on security, with Kerry and his team proposing a detailed plan for the Jordan Valley.

A peace treaty would deal with all the divisive core issues, including the contours of a future Palestinian state, refugees, the fate of Jerusalem claimed by both as a capital, security and mutual recognition.

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