US tries to break deadlock in Middle East talks

Hillary Clinton tried in meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Tuesday to break a deadlock over Israeli settlement building that threatens new Middle East peace talks.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Tue 14 Sep 2010, 6:17 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 8:32 AM

Palestinians and Israelis in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh showed no sign they were close to a compromise on the dispute over Jewish settlement construction in the occupied West Bank on land Palestinians want for a new state.

“We are all striving to bring the message to (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu that the settlements issue is important to negotiations and for us there cannot be any talks on ending occupation while occupation is deepening,” Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said.

Netanyahu said on Sunday he would not extend a 10-month partial building freeze that expires on Sept. 30 but indicated he would limit the scope of future construction.

Palestinians have threatened to quit the direct talks, relaunched in Washington on Sept. 2 after a 20-month hiatus, if building work resumes. “If expectations are that only Israel should make concessions then that is not a recipe for a successful conclusion to the talks,” Israeli spokesman Mark Regev said.

Clinton, who held a trilaterate meeting with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said both Israel and the Palestinians needed to take actions to resolve the settlement disagreement.

“For me, this is a simple choice: no negotiations, no security, no state,” Clinton told reporters as she travelled to Sharm el-Sheikh.

Deal in a year

Washington has set a one-year target for reaching a framework peace agreement on key issues, including settlements, security, borders and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

But signalling low expectations, officials said there would be no news conferences or joint statements on Tuesday. Diplomats have said they do not expect a resolution of the moratorium question until much closer to the end of the month.

“The United States believes that the moratorium should be extended,” Clinton told reporters, echoing Obama.

But, in a comment that appeared to place some of the onus on the Palestinians, she added: “There are obligations on both sides to ensure that these negotiations continue.”

Allies of Netanyahu, whose coalition is dominated by pro-settler parties, warn of a government collapse if he fails to resume expanding the settler enclaves.

The settlements are built on territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and are deemed by the World Court to be illegal under international law.

President Hosni Mubarak, whose country was the first Arab state to make peace with Israel, hosted the meetings.

In talks with Netanyahu, Mubarak discussed “the need to stop Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land,” the official Egyptian news agency reported.

Clinton will meet Netanyahu and Abbas together again in Jerusalem on Wednesday as she seeks to keep the talks alive.

Obama has staked considerable political capital in the talks, launching them before November congressional elections, where fellow Democrats face possible big losses to Republicans.

A swift implosion would be a major blow and he is expected to put huge pressure on both sides to stay at the table.

Besides settlements, the Israelis and Palestinians are expected to discuss this week how to structure their talks, should they go ahead, and decide which issues to tackle first.

Abbas wants to focus on setting the borders of a future country, while Netanyahu wants to look at security arrangements to ensure a Palestinian state would not threaten Israel.

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