|Guess who are the construction workers in the "settlements"?|
about "peace talks"
JERUSALEM — Israel’s decision this weekend to end its freeze on West Bank Jewish settlement construction sent diplomats on three continents scurrying on Monday to keep the Middle East peace talks alive. And while the discussions covered many topics, in the end they came down to one stubborn goal: how to curb settlement construction.
While negotiators huddled in New York and Washington, and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the international envoy to the process, shuttled around Jerusalem, PresidentNicolas Sarkozy of France met with thePalestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in Paris, and extended an invitation to him and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, for a meeting there next month. Both accepted.
Mr. Sarkozy called on Monday for an end to Jewish settlement building, as did the United Nations secretary general and the American and British governments.
The Palestinian leadership has said from the start of the direct talks, which began four weeks ago, that if the building moratorium were not extended there would be no point in continuing the negotiations. But Mr. Abbas announced on Monday that instead of walking out, he would consult with his political movements this week and with Arab leaders next Monday in Cairo.
The consultation plans gave all parties involved at least another week to find a formula for the settlement dilemma, officials said. The peace talks are in danger of collapse if no formula is found, they added.
“We pointed to the Arab League meeting next Monday as a way of giving more time for an Israeli answer,” Nabil Shaath, one of the Palestinian negotiators, said by telephone from Paris. “We are waiting for Netanyahu. If he freezes settlements, this will bring us back to the negotiations.”
Other officials said that Mr. Netanyahu had not specifically ruled out stopping settlement construction in the future as part of a package. He would not extend the 10-month building moratorium that he declared last November because he believed it vital for both domestic and foreign concerns to live up to his word that it was a one-time gesture, his aides said.
But now discussions are under way that are focusing again on curbing Jewish settlements on land that would go to the Palestinians for a future state. Settlements, however, are being negotiated as part of a larger set of issues that involve borders, territory and, ultimately, security, so their future is not being discussed in isolation.
The goal this week is to find a formula for all those substantial issues that embraces a way out of the settlement dilemma, officials said.
“We are disappointed but we remain focused on our long-term objective and will be talking to the parties about the implications of the Israeli decision,” the State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, told reporters.
Mr. Crowley said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke with Mr. Netanyahu on Monday afternoon, in a call that he characterized as businesslike and direct.
A person briefed on the deliberations said the Obama administration had drafted letters to the Israelis and Palestinians that gave each side a series of security assurances if they stuck with the negotiations. But it was not clear whether the letters had been delivered, or, if they had, whether American reassurances would be enough to break the impasse. President Obama sent a similar letter last spring to Mr. Abbas urging him to re-enter talks with Israel.
The administration’s Middle East envoy, George J. Mitchell, was to fly to Israel on Monday night for talks with the Israelis and Palestinians later this week. Mr. Mitchell telephoned Mr. Abbas on Monday to thank him for the Palestinians’ restrained reaction to the end of the moratorium, according to another person familiar with the talks.
“The key is to put the negotiations back on their feet so that both parties are internally less vulnerable, and to take settlements as an issue by itself out of the discussions,” a top diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because all sides had agreed not to talk publicly about the details of the talks.
He added that Mr. Netanyahu ultimately had to be able to sell a deal to his right-leaning cabinet and to the Israeli public, and that, therefore, his credibility was a matter of concern to the negotiators and mediators as well as to him.
On Sunday night, as the construction moratorium ended, Mr. Netanyahu called on Mr. Abbas to keep the negotiations going but made no mention of the settlement moratorium or the start of construction. Earlier in the day he called on settler leaders to “show restraint and responsibility,” meaning to avoid ostentation and incitement.
Generally, the reaction in West Bank Jewish settlements to the end of the moratorium was relatively muted on Monday, perhaps because the Sukkot holiday this week kept construction crews from working all over the country. Small, mostly symbolic, projects in the settlements of Ariel and Kiryat Arba, among others, were begun on Monday to mark renewed settlement building.
Palestinian officials said they found it hard to understand how the Obama administration could express its opposition to the building but not have it stopped.
“We cannot accept the American position that says it is against settlements but doesn’t lead to an end to them,” said Mr. Shaath, the negotiator. “We need a practical position from the United States against settlements. I am surprised that America is unable to stop them.”
Mr. Shaath said the central committee of Mr. Abbas’s Fatah party and the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization were to meet this week in preparation for the Arab League ministerial meeting next Monday.
Arab leaders, especially of Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, have been eager for the Israeli-Palestinian talks to continue. But all have expressed anger at settlement growth, and it remained unclear what they would advise Mr. Abbas if settlement building was not curbed.