In talks, no progress seen on Israeli settlements

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt - A second round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks ended without visible progress Tuesday on the divisive issue of Jewish settlement construction though the leaders did discuss a range of disputes standing in the way of a permanent deal.

By (AP)

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Published: Tue 14 Sep 2010, 8:42 PM

Last updated: Thu 27 Oct 2022, 2:33 PM

In a potentially positive sign, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held an extra meeting in this Red Sea resort before the negotiations shifted to Jerusalem on Wednesday.

“The parties have begun a serious discussion on core issues,” said President Barack Obama’s envoy to the region, George Mitchell, after the leaders met for almost two hours with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who said the “time is ripe” for a peace deal.

Those issues include determining borders for Israel and a Palestinian state and ensuring security for Israel.

Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev, said each side has some hard decisions ahead.

“The way to an agreement is to look at all the core issues together. Not to run away from any one of them,” he said.

Mitchell was pressed to say whether there was movement on the settlements and responded: “We continue our efforts to make progress and we believe that we are moving in the right direction, overall.”

He repeated Clinton’s call for Israel to extend its soon-to-expire curb on settlement construction in the West Bank.

“We think it makes sense to extend the moratorium, especially given that the talks are moving in a constructive direction,” he said. “We know this is a politically sensitive issue in Israel. But we’ve also called on President Abbas to take steps that help encourage and facilitate this process. We believe both sides have a responsibility to help ensure that these talks continue in a constructive manner.

The ultimate aim is a deal that creates a sovereign Palestinian state beside a secure Israel.

The Palestinians want Israel’s settlement curb extended beyond the current Sept. 26 deadline. Netanyahu has suggested at least some of the restraints will be lifted.

Clinton said the Obama administration believes Israel should extend the moratorium, but she also said it would take an effort by both sides to find a way around the problem.

“We recognize that an agreement that could be forged between the Israelis and the Palestinians ... that would enable the negotiations to continue is in the best interests of both sides,” she told reporters during the flight from Washington to Egypt for the latest round of talks, which began this month in Washington.

To Egypt’s foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, “a return to settlement is an obstacle, a large hurdle.”

A senior Abbas aide, Mohammed Ishtayeh, told reporters that an Israeli extension of its partial freeze would not signal progress in the negotiations but in “confidence building.”

“The freeze on settlements (construction) is not a topic in the negotiations,” he said. “Removing settlements is.”

Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai, a member of Netanyahu’s seven-member inner Cabinet, voiced his opposition to the settlement slowdown, reflecting the intense pressure on the prime minister within his coalition to resume construction once the moratorium ends.

“The freeze in the West Bank is incorrect and its good that it is ending,” Yishai told Israel Radio as the meetings in Egypt were taking place.

On Sunday, Netanyahu seemed to reject a total freeze on construction. He said Israel would not build thousands of planned homes. But without providing details or a timeline, he said, “We will not freeze the lives of the residents.”

Although some analysts caution that any peace deal faces daunting obstacles, Clinton has said an initial round of talks in Washington on Sept. 2 generated some momentum. They were the first direct in nearly two years.

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