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'Israeli apartheid targets two-state deal'

world Updated: Apr 14, 2010 18:13 IST

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat charges that Israel has become an "apartheid regime" worse than during South Africa's darkest hours and is doing its utmost to sabotage any two-state peace.

Erakat told AFP in an interview that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rightwing-led government had the choice: "Settlements or peace, and he has chosen settlements and settlers."

Under Netanyahu, he added, Israel's occupation of the West Bank has "developed into an apartheid regime worse than that of South Africa."

"Never in the darkest hours of South African apartheid were the blacks prevented (from using) roads that whites were using," the veteran negotiator said, referring to Israel's separatist security measures for Jewish settlers in the Palestinian territory.

"If the occupation continues, there will be villages, towns in the West Bank, and refugee camps that will be within walls within walls that nobody can use," said Erakat, warning of more bloodshed and extremism as a result.

As new Israeli military orders came into effect on Tuesday, with the potential to expel many West Bank residents, Erakat said in a separate statement Palestinians would be turned into "criminals in their own homes."

The orders define an "infiltrator" in a way that could describe anyone in the West Bank who "does not hold a permit." The vast majority of Palestinians have never been required to hold an Israeli permit to reside in the West Bank.

Such threats, Erakat told AFP, are "destroying the two-state solution which is ... the only sane option."

Washington and its Middle East diplomatic Quartet partners, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, are pushing for a viable Palestinian state to be established alongside a secure Israel under a peace deal.

"America is exerting every possible effort in order to maintain the two-state-solution," said Erakat.

Washington is also making "every possible effort to begin the 'proximity talks'," he added, referring to indirect peace negotiations stymied by Israel's settlement policies in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem.

"We support them in this and we hope they succeed. And the Israeli government is doing its best to sabotage this," said Erakat.