by Selim SAHEB ETTABA
by Selim SAHEB ETTABA
JERUSALEM, June 05, 2013 (AFP)
Palestinian officials marked 46 years since the start of the 1967 war with Israel on Wednesday by insisting any peace talks must be based on the lines that existed before the Jewish state’s occupation.
Chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erakat visited three villages in the West Bank whose populations fled the Israeli invasion during the Six-Day War against the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria.
Israeli forces occupied Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem during the conflict, with Palestinians mourning it as the “Naksa” or setback.
“The (same) fate of the 5,000 Palestinians who were evicted from these villages” in June 1967 still befalls Palestinians in the West Bank today, he told reporters on a stop in the village of Yalu.
The demolition of Yalu, Imwas and Beit Nuba back then was now being repeated “in Jericho, Nablus and everywhere else” in the West Bank, he lamented, citing the destruction of houses by the Israeli army, which expels hundreds of Palestinian families from their homes in areas under its control each year.
“Why did the Israelis evict those people in 1967? Simply because they wanted to declare the borders,” Erakat said.
He reiterated Palestinian demands for a halt to Israeli settlement building in Palestinian territories and a return to the pre-war lines as a basis for any peace talks.
Israel, for its part, calls for talks “without preconditions” and refuses publicly to freeze settlement building.
Peace negotiations stalled in September 2010 over the settlements issue.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Executive Committee of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s PLO, slammed Israel’s continued settlement building in a statement marking the war’s anniversary.
“Forty-six years later, the Israeli occupation of 22 percent of historical Palestine still constitutes a humanitarian and political disaster that dominates and controls the lives of the Palestinian people in Palestine and in exile,” she said.
“Our struggle will continue until we… witness the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital,” Ashrawi said, pointing out that Israel’s settlement building is illegal under international law.
Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, in its own report marking the anniversary, slammed Israel’s “de facto annexation of Area C (in the West Bank) and creation of circumstances that will help perpetuate this situation and influence the final status of the area”.
Area C, which covers more than 60 percent of the occupied West Bank, is under full Israeli control.
“In theory, Israel retains complete authority only in Area C,” B’Tselem said. “In practice, Israel’s control of Area C adversely affects all Palestinian West Bank residents,” more than 2.5 million people.
The report added that “contrary to international law,” Israel was actively encouraging its citizens to settle in the West Bank.
But Israel’s deputy foreign minister Zeev Elkin on Wednesday reiterated Israel’s refusal to return to the pre-June 1967 lines.
“The people of Israel are not ready to commit suicide and make the same mistake they made when they pulled out of the Gaza Strip (in 2005),” he said, referring to the subsequent takeover of the territory by Islamist movement Hamas and the rockets which have since been fired at southern Israel.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who will visit the region next week for a fifth time since February, has been trying to draw the parties back into direct negotiations, but on Monday warned Israel could be facing its last chance to secure a peace deal