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Peace talks with Israel going nowhere: senior Palestinian

Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem are seen in the background as tourists walk atop a wall surrounding Jerusalem's Old City August 13, 20
Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem are seen in the background as tourists walk atop a wall surrounding Jerusalem's Old City August 13, 20

RAMALLAH (Reuters) - Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are proving pointless and will not bear fruit without much greater pressure from Washington, a top aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Wednesday.

In the most damning Palestinian assessment to date, Yasser Abed Rabbo said that the negotiations, which kicked off in late July after a three year hiatus, had made no progress.

"These negotiations are futile and won't lead to any results," Abed Rabbo told Voice of Palestine radio.

"I don't expect any progress at all unless there is huge and powerful American pressure, such as the one we are seeing from America to deal with the Syrian issue," added Abed Rabbo, one of just two officials authorized by Abbas to discuss the talks.

An Israeli official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office declined to comment on the remarks, saying the two sides had agreed that only the United States should speak about the talks. "We are abiding by that agreement," the official said.

The U.S. State Department said on Sunday that Israeli and Palestinian delegations had been meeting continuously since direct talks resumed on July 29, adding that a U.S. envoy had taken part in one of the encounters.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has given the two sides nine months to work out their differences, with meetings going on in both Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

Little information has leaked about the focus of the initial talks, but Abed Rabbo said continued Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem on land the Palestinians want for their future state, had undermined the negotiations.

"Israel did not commit to stopping settlements and we see the continuation of the settlement policy as destroying any possible chance of (a deal)," he said.

Israel announced tenders for, or advanced the planning process on about 3,100 housing units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem last month. It brushed off Palestinian anger, saying the homes were destined for well-established settlements that it expected to keep as part of any final accord.

In a message marking the Jewish New Year, Netanyahu said on Wednesday that he wanted "real and enduring peace ... not an agreement that we celebrate for two minutes and then collapses".

"This must be anchored on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and on our security. This is what ultimately is needed."

Both Netanyahu and Abbas are due to meet Kerry separately in Europe in the coming week to discuss the negotiations.

(Reporting by Ali Sawafta, Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ari Rabinovitch; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Alison Williams)

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