Deadline extended in bid to keep Israel-Palestinian talks alive
Palestinian leaders say continued settlement expansion in the West Bank could halt peace talks by the end of the week. Is an acceptable compromise in the works?
Tel Aviv, Israel
Sputtering Israeli-Palestinian peace talks received another reprieve over the weekend when a key Arab League meeting was postponed until Friday. It was the second delay for the meeting, which Palestinians said could mark their withdrawal from negotiations if Israeli settlement expansion continued.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Since a series of previous Palestinian deadlines have come and gone without decisive action, there's no guarantee that much will change on Friday. But diplomatic maneuvering is heating up, with the Obama administration searching for a formula that will keep Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the negotiating table, notwithstanding that both men continue to make mutually exclusive demands.
Mr. Netanyahu insists a permanent settlement freeze is off the table. Mr. Abbas insists on such a freeze as a precondition for continued talks, since he argues that expanding the amount of territory under Israeli control is antithetical to negotiations designed to eventually reduce the Israeli presence in the occupied territories.
While that bodes ill for much progress, let alone a final peace agreement within a year, as President Obama's administration says is still possible, there is still some hope that a workable compromise can be found.
"Things are really stuck right now. It seems the US is trying to devise an attractive enough set of assurances to give Netanyahu cover at home without undermining Palestinian confidence in the negotiating process, which is a tricky balancing act,'' said Scott Lasensky, a fellow at the US Institute for Peace, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.
Netanyahu avoided being specific about what steps will be taken from the Israeli side on Monday. "We are at the height of sensitive talks with the American administration," he told his cabinet. Israel is "calmly considering the picture far from [the] spotlight and will act calmly."
But the contours of a possible compromise, at least from an Israeli perspective, were outlined in press reports in the past few days. Those indicate that Netanyahu is mulling a temporary two-month settlement freeze in exchange for several major promises from Obama.
The London-based Arab-language daily Asharq Alawsat reported on Monday that Netanyahu had given an agreement in principle to the idea of extending a settlement moratorium in return for US guarantees, which appeared to lend credence to a report at the end of last week from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a think tank that supports strong US-Israel ties.