Moves by Israel's parliament to cement Israel's hold over the disputed city of Jerusalem and to block the return of Palestinian refugees, could mean the end of peace talks if they come to fruition, a top Palestinian negotiator warned Wednesday.
Saeb Erakat was speaking after a majority of MPs approved one bill requiring for any change to Jerusalem's borders and the transfer of areas inside to a "foreign element" to require a special majority of 61 MPs and another blocking the return of the 3.5 million Palestinian refugees to land under Israeli sovereignty.
"If these two bills end up being adopted, that will be the end of negotiations on the final status" of the Palestinian territories, Erakat told AFP.
He pointed out that both Jerusalem and the fate of the refugees were among the thorny issues to be settled during the talks, according to the 1993 Oslo accords signed by the two sides.
"Israel cannot claim at one and the same time to be negotiating and to decide the outcome of the talks unilaterally," he said.
Both bills will face a further three readings before becoming law.
Nabil Abu Rudeina, spokesman for Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, told AFP the vote "hurt the negotiations and created a negative mood in the peace process."
He said the next few weeks would be decisive and would be a test of Israel's intentions about signing a peace agreement by the scheduled date of September.
"Contacts, meetings and discussions are going on between Palestinians, Israelis and Americans at more than one level at the current time, and will go on in the same way in the next few months," he said.
However, he admitted that the gap between the two sides remained wide and said the United States, Egypt and Jordan were all attempting to help narrow them.
He called for pressure to be brought to bear on Israel to make it implement agreements already concluded.
US Middle East envoy Dennis Ross met Arafat in Ramallah Tuesday and later the same day held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in Tel Aviv. His trouble-shooting mission was complicated by an outbreak of violence in the Palestinian territories which saw four Palestinians shot dead by Israeli troops in the space of five days -- GAZA CITY (AFP)
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