Settlement freeze dispute threatens direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are likely to remain elusive after Israeli officials said they could reject the settlement freeze Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas listed as a necessary precondition for any negotiations.
An Israeli settlement freeze is emerging as the biggest obstacle to resuming direct talks aimed at ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to announce as early as Monday his willingness to enter such negotiations, but with preconditions Israel has said it is not prepared to accept.Skip to next paragraph
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“The Palestinians are looking for either an Israeli commitment to a settlement freeze, or a Quartet [European Union, United States, United Nations, and Russia] statement that would be accepted by both sides as a basis for negotiations,” says Ghassan Khatib, director of the Palestinian Authority government’s media center. “We are looking for a settlement freeze according to the definition of Quartet … road map – adopted by the United Nations Security Council – which called for a settlement freeze in all occupied areas including East Jerusalem.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner cabinet reportedly met this weekend to discuss a possible continuation of a 10-month Israeli freeze due to expire on Sept. 26. Palestinians have criticized that freeze as inadequate, because it did not include East Jerusalem, although it became clear this spring that a de facto freeze had been implemented.
Mr. Netanyahu has said that continuing the freeze would be politically impossible, causing his coalition to fall apart. Many settlers in the West Bank either opposed the freeze outright, or accepted it as a necessary evil. But an extension could erode any support Netanyahu and his right-wing allies retain from those constituents.
If the moratorium is extended, “there might be an explosion,” says a young yeshiva student in Beit El, where Israeli security forces recently destroyed a small shack built by young protesters, resulting in a violent clash that injured 30. “The state is investing more effort in destroying housing than it is in fighting Hamas.”
The Hamas factor
Indeed Hamas, which issued a strong statement against direct talks this weekend, remains a thorny issue for Israel.
"The Palestinian refusal movements confirm their objection to direct or indirect talks and warn against the dangerous consequences of a policy which undermines national Palestinian rights. Return to direct negotiations is capitulation to the demands of the US and the Zionists, who seek to abolish these rights," said the statement, issued jointly with 10 Palestinian groups based in Damascus, Syria.