Jordan monarch pessimistic as he expects armed Palestinian intifada

Abbas-Meshaal meeting in Cairo delayed

Jerusalem municipality approves expanding 2,000 settlements

Israel to build border wall in occupied Golan

New constitution announced in Morocco

The prolonged stalemate in the Middle East peace process will lead to yet another war between Israel and the Palestinians, Jordan’s King Abdullah II warned in an interview broadcast Sunday.

“I just have a feeling that we’re going to be living with the status quo for 2011 … Whenever we accept the status quo, we do so until there is another war,” Abdullah told ABC television’s “This Week.”

“If you look to the past 10 years, every two to two-and-a-half years, there is either the intifada or a war or a conflict. So looking back over the past 12 years, my experience shows me that if we ignore the Israeli-Palestinian issue, something will burst,” the monarch said.

Earlier Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved the construction of 294 new homes in the Beitar Ilit settlement in the occupied West Bank, anti-settlement NGO Peace Now reported.

It also said that work had started on more than 2,000 settler homes since the end in September of Israel’s 10-month freeze on Jewish construction on Palestinian land.

Peace Now said Barak has also approved building of homes for the elderly and a shopping center in the settlement of Efrat.

The group could not say exactly when Barak had signed off on the projects, although it said that it had seen a letter dated April 28 from the Defense Ministry advising the Housing Ministry of its decision.

The plans still need local authority permits to build but that is considered a formality, requiring no further government action, Peace Now said.

The Defense Ministry, contacted by AFP, issued a brief statement saying that “since the end of the freeze period a few building permits have been approved for communities situated in the [settlement] blocs to meet their living needs.”

Peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have been on hold since late September, when the partial Israeli settlement freeze expired and Netanyahu declined to renew it.

Peace Now said Sunday that since the moratorium had been lifted Israeli settlers had started construction on about 2,000 homes in 75 different settlement sites.

“This construction might create facts on the ground that will make the price of peace much higher for Israel,” it said in a statement, adding that one-third of the new construction was going on beyond Israel’s West Bank barrier, which itself regularly cuts into land the Palestinians claim for their future state.

Peace Now added that in addition the Israeli government had given planning permission to 800 new homes in 13 settlements.

Peace Now called that decision “not just miserable timing but a miserable policy” and said it sent a “clear message to the Americans.”

The Palestinians have insisted they will not talk while Israel builds on land they want for a future state, and Israel has attracted fierce international criticism for its settlement policy.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said Israel must choose “between settlements and peace.”

But in response to U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech Sunday, Netanyahu issued a blunt statement rejecting the pre-1967 lines as a basis for negotiation.

Meanwhile, Palestinian factions, including Fatah and Hamas, will seek Russian backing for a new government after their reconciliation deal at talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Monday, a delegate said.

“We are expecting that he will show his support for the reconciliation accord and the formation of the new Palestinian government,” Bassam Salhi, leader of the Palestinian People’s Party, told AFP on the eve of the talks in Moscow.

Salhi said that the factions had held talks among themselves over the weekend about the formation of a national unity government, without giving further details.

The factions are due to meet Lavrov Monday morning where they will try to drum up support from Moscow for the reconciliation accord.

The number of Arab Israelis who deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and Zionist state rose to 66.4 percent in 2010 while 29.5 percent opposed its existence under any terms, a poll said.

The survey of 1,411 Jewish and Arab Israeli adults conducted by Haifa University professor Sammy Smooha and published Sunday said the respective numbers in 2003 were 61.4 percent and 11.2 percent.

Indicating growing radicalization in the views of each group about the other, the 2010 survey found that 32.5 percent of Jewish Israelis supported revoking their Arab compatriots’ right to vote, compared to 24 percent in 1985.

“The results of the Jewish-Arab relations index for 2010 point to a growing distance between the positions of Arab and Jewish citizens and an additional radicalization in the positions of Arabs,” the university said in a statement accompanying the survey findings.

It said that 62.5 percent of the Arab respondents saw the Jews as “foreign settlers who do not fit into the region and will eventually leave, when the land will return to the Palestinians.”

Meanwhile, talks between president Mahmud Abbas, who heads Fatah, and Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal on a new Palestinian cabinet have been postponed, a Fatah official said on Sunday.

The two senior political figures were due to meet in Cairo on Tuesday to discuss the make-up of an interim government of independents called for by a unity deal that rival factions Hamas and Fatah signed in Egypt last month.

The talks have reportedly stalled on the issue of who will head the transitional government, with Abbas championing his current prime minister Salam Fayyad for the job despite objections from the Islamist movement Hamas.

But Fatah representative Azzam al-Ahmed made no allusion to the reported difficulties on finding a consensus figure, saying only that the delay was intended to move the talks forward.

"The meeting has been postponed until a new date is set in the coming days in order to assure the best atmosphere for the successful implementation of the reconciliation agreement," he told AFP.

Ahmed said Fatah had requested the delay in the talks "to create the right atmosphere and because of the commitments that have come up on the president's schedule in Turkey."

He said Abbas would visit Turkey on Wednesday, though no additional details on the trip were immediately available. In Gaza, Hamas government head Ismail Haniya played down any suggestion that a stalemate had led to the postponement.

"There is a possibility that the meeting between president Mahmud Abbas and Khaled Meshaal, head of the political office of Hamas, will be delayed," he said in a statement. "This is a sign of the seriousness of the discussions on the make-up of the government and who will head it."

Abbas and Meshaal were scheduled to meet after talks in Cairo last week between lower-level representatives from the two Palestinian factions failed to produce a final agreement on the government.

Under the terms of a unity deal signed by the two sides, they must agree on independent figures to make up a government that will lay the groundwork for legislative and presidential elections within a year.

The difficult negotiating process has raised fears that the fragile reconciliation could collapse prematurely after Fatah's central committee said it would nominate Fayyad to lead the next government.

Hamas has said it wants the next prime minister to come from Gaza, which Fayyad does not, and has rejected Fayyad outright, accusing him of ties to a government that persecuted members of the Islamist movement.

The reconciliation deal, which was cautiously welcomed in the international community but roundly rejected by Israel, also contains several more potential stumbling blocks.

In addition to achieving consensus on a new government, the two sides must discuss ways to integrate their rival forces and negotiate the expansion of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which does not currently include Hamas.

Meanwhile, France is deeply concerned about Israel’s authorization for the expansion of 2,000 settlement homes built on occupied Palestinian land in east Jerusalem, the Foreign Ministry said Monday.

“Our position is constant: Settlement building is illegal in the eyes of international law, in the West Bank as well as in East Jerusalem,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.

Jerusalem’s municipal council Sunday approved the expansion of 2,000 homes in the settlement district of Ramat Shlomo, allowing each home to add a room.

The Ramat Shlomo neighborhood lies in an area of Arab East Jerusalem, which Israel captured during the 1967 war and later annexed in a move not recognized by the international community.

France called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resume peace talks based on proposals made by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe when he visited the region earlier this month.

“We call on the parties to resume negotiations based on principles contained in the French initiative … and to refrain from unilateral gestures,” Valero said.

The Israeli government agreed on Sunday to build a wall along the borders of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights to block infiltration of Palestinians through the border town of Majdal Shams.

The second Israeli TV channel revealed that work would start soon in the border wall that would be eight meters high along an area of four kilometers near Majdal Shams.

It said that Benny Gantz, the chief of general staff, ordered conclusion of work at the wall by September that is before the UN vote on recognizing a Palestinian state.

In Rabat, King Mohammed VI of Morocco has announced a series of constitutional reforms that he said will turn the North African country into a constitutional monarchy. Pro-democracy activists, however, remain skeptical.

Under the new constitution, the king will remain the supreme commander of the army and a new article formalized him as the highest religious authority in the country. The speech marked the culmination of a three-month review of the constitution at the order of the king after protests calling for reform swept the North African monarchy in February.

Immediately after the speech, cars flying Moroccan flags drove through the streets of the capital honking their horns, and young people marched along boulevards banging drums and cheering.

Morocco has a parliamentary system with dozens of political parties, but they are weak and many are beholden to the king and his advisers.

While the king remains popular, there is deep dissatisfaction over the government and the advisers around the monarchy, whom are believed to be corrupt and rapacious.

The reform of the 15-year-old constitution is the king's response to the wave of pro-democracy fervor sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.

The new constitution will be put to a referendum on July 1.

The king said the constitutional reform laid the basis for an "efficient, rational constitutional system whose core elements are the balance, independence and separation of powers, and whose foremost goal is the freedom and dignity of citizens".

The new constitution elevates the prime minister to the "head of government" and ensures he is selected from the party that received the most votes in election, rather than just chosen by the king.

The prime minister will have the power to choose and dismiss Cabinet members and to fill a number of other government positions. The selection of the regional governors will remain the king's prerogative.

The king also will continue to chair the key Council of Ministers and the Supreme Security Council. The prime minister can chair these councils, but only using an agenda set by the king.

Activists from the pro-democracy February 20 movement dismissed many of the changes, describing them as cosmetic.

"Before we had an absolute monarch, now we have an absolute monarch that is a pope as well," said Elaabadila Chbihna, an activist with the movement that has been carrying out weekly pro-democracy marches.