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Palestinians warn Israel peace talks could be quickly derailed

Palestinian leaders have been warning that renewed peace talks with Israel, scheduled for next week, could be derailed after an Israeli settlement freeze expires. But behind the threats is a more nuanced and compromising position.

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That was enough for the Palestinians to agree to indirect negotiations. Going forward, Netanyahu’s moderate supporters have suggested that Israel seek a compromise under which it would be allowed to continue building in larger "blocs" of settlements adjacent to Israel proper, while the building moratorium would remain in force in communities deep in the West Bank.

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Ghassan Khatib, a Palestinian government spokesman, said that the Palestinians will be focusing on Israeli actions – suggesting that a declaration on a moratorium extention may not be crucial.

The main criteria is a practical one,’’ he says. "If [Netanyahu] stops the settlement activities, that is the main indicator he is serious. If he continues to grab the land and expand settlements then he is not serious about ending the occupation.’’


In the long run, talks involving the Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas will not, on their own, be sufficient to build a lasting piece. The Islamist Palestinian group Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, opposes the talks, and allies of Mr. Abbas say ongoing settlement expansion erodes Palestinian support for negotiations and shifts more of the public to Hamas' uncompromising position.

But despite public complaints that Israel is creating facts on the ground, Palestinian negotiators are also mindful that those facts are not necessarily permanent, says Mr. Dajani. Israel dismantled settlements in the Sinai peninsula following its peace treaty with Egypt, and after deciding on a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.

Some also expect a quiet understanding from the Palestinians to tolerate building in established Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, says Gershon Baskin, the co-director of the Israel Palestinian Center for Research and Information.

To be sure, some are less hopeful. Yasser Abed Raboo, who heads the Palestinian broadcast authority and is a government spokesman, insists that as long as there is no agreement on the borders of a future Palestinian state, President Abbas won’t agree to a selective freeze.

"When we decide what will be the swap of land, and what the borders will be, then let them build," Mr. Abed Raboo says. "But now they are deciding what will be part of the land swap unilaterally."

He argues that just as Israel wouldn’t tolerate violence amid talks, the Palestinians cannot tolerate building during the talks, however minor.

Mr. Abed Raboo says the Palestinians expect the building pipeline to be cut off. "There should be no more units under construction until we finalize this agreement. Otherwise this is a deception."