Urging Israeli-Palestinian talks, Obama backs down on settlements
At the UN Tuesday, Obama appeared to drop his demand that Israel freeze settlement growth as a precondition to negotiations by calling on it to “restrain” activity instead.
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About 300,000 Israeli settlers now live in 121 settlements in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since the 1967 war and where Palestinians hope to establish their future state. (Read the Christian Science Monitor’s briefing on where, when, and why Israeli settlements are built.)Skip to next paragraph
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It is unclear where this move leaves the possible peace negotiations. Mr. Abbas has so far refused to begin negotiations with Israel until it declares a full halt to the growth of the outposts. According to the conservative Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu told Israeli reporters after the meeting that Abbas had dropped preconditions for the talks, and discussions were now focused on the framework of negotiations.
Obama had hoped to be able to announce a breakthrough in negotiations by now. Instead, he had to make do with the first meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a year. Reuters reports that the US and Israel may be pushing for entering full-blown negotiations before resolving the settlement issue.
"They are trying to finesse settlements now," said [Daniel Kurtzer], a former U.S. ambassador to Israel. "Having been unable to reach an agreement to freeze settlements in a meaningful way, they are going to leave it out there as a disagreement between us but not as a road block or an impediment to negotiations."
After the meeting Tuesday, Obama expressed determination to move forward, saying, “It is absolutely critical that we get this issue resolved," the Monitor reported.
He ... directed top foreign policy aides, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and special Mideast envoy George Mitchell, to continue the intense contacts with Israeli and Palestinian officials the US has pursued since Obama took office.
Mr. Mitchell said he would meet with his counterparts from both parties again Thursday, while Secretary Clinton is to report back to the president by mid-October on where diplomatic efforts stand.