Berlin conference ends with fretting over fragile peace talks

The United States and other peace brokers finished up talks in Berlin Tuesday after raising $242 million for the Palestinian Authority security by fretting over the fragility of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and calling for a truce in Hamas-run Gaza to last and Israel to freeze settlements.

Berlin conference ends with fretting over fragile peace talks
Photo: DPA

The appeal from the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and United States followed international pledges of $242 million at the Berlin meeting to bolster the Palestinian police and justice system to help pave the way to a viable state.

The money will be passed to the Palestinian Authority (PA) over the next three years for measures such as putting more police on the beat, rebuilding destroyed courthouses and training judges, host Germany said. The cash comes out of $7.4 billion already pledged by donors in Paris in December.

Following a series of meetings here, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters that a peace agreement could still be framed before President George W. Bush leaves office in January.

“I continue to be hopeful that we can reach the solution by the end of the year as envisioned by Annapolis,” said Rice flanked by her counterparts from the other members of the quartet.

At US-sponsored talks in Annapolis, Maryland last November, Israel and the Palestinians revived negotiations toward resolving core problems like the status of Jerusalem, the borders of a future Palestinian state and refugees. But the quartet acknowledged difficulties by stressing “the urgent need for tangible progress toward” a deal this year for “an independent and viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, and an end to the conflict.” A senior US official told reporters that the negotiations remained complicated by both events in Gaza—which is run by the extremist Hamas movement—and by volatile Israeli domestic politics. “There was a recognition throughout the conversations today that the situation on the ground is very fragile because of Gaza,” he said. US Generals William Fraser and James Jones are expected to return to the West Bank and Israel to resume their roles in seeking to improve the security situation, the official said.

Two rockets fired from the Gaza Strip slammed into southern Israel on Tuesday, the first such attacks since the truce came into effect on June 19. One landed in the courtyard of a house and caused some damage and the other landed in a field.

This came hours after Israeli troops killed a senior Islamic Jihad fighter and another young man in the northern town of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, which was not included in the Egyptian-brokered truce.

The quartet issued a statement urging “that the calm be respected in full and expressed its hope that it would endure and lead to improved security for Palestinians and Israelis alike, and a return to normal civilian life in Gaza.”

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana underscored the point later by saying “to maintain the calm will be the most beneficial for everybody,” adding it is “the most important thing” before them. And, reiterating their “deep concern,” the United States and fellow quartet members also called for an immediate freeze to Jewish settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and the dismantling of outposts built since March 2001. Israeli authorities said earlier this month that they had approved a plan to build 40,000 new homes in Jerusalem over the next 10 years, including in the annexed Arab eastern sector of the city.

The move infuriated the Palestinians, who want east Jerusalem as their future capital, and drew international criticism.

Actions on both sides undermine the roadmap which was launched by the quartet in 2003 to pave the way for a Palestinian state by first calling for a halt to both extremist violence and settlement building. The quartet said it planned to next come together in September at the UN General Assembly, where they would discuss plans for an international meeting in Moscow to bolster the Annapolis process.

It would be the latest in a series of such meetings. Berlin played host Tuesday to a conference involving 41 countries which pledged $242 million toward establishing a criminal-justice system based on the rule of law.

On the sidelines of the talks in Berlin, Rice hosted a trilateral meeting with Israelis led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinians led by chief negotiator Ahmed Qorei, according to Palestinian and US officials.