Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The U.S. gives up on settlement freeze demand, de-linking negotiations from freeze

(Politico).The United States has decided to abandon an effort to persuade Israel to issue a new temporary West Bank settlement moratorium in order to get a resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

"After consulting with the parties, we have determined that a moratorium extension will not at this time provide the best basis for resuming negotiations," a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity Tuesday.

"We are still going to continue our engagement with both sides on the core issues and we continue to work towards the goal of a framework agreement,We hope obviously to get the parties to direct talks but in the meantime we will continue our engagement with both sides," the official said, declining to use the word "proximity" talks. "We are not changing course. We are still very much committed" to get a framework agreement.

"They are trying to de-link negotiations from a settlement freeze," one Washington Middle East watcher said Tuesday, of the Obama administration. "Their argument is that the intention was never to make a freeze a precondition for talks - a freeze was supposed to build confidence and energize talks, that's all. Now they are trying to formally break the linkage that inadvertently developed."

The Times reports that the U.S. gave up in part because it didn't think that 90 days would be enough to resolve the Middle East talks (shock!), and that an offer of security guarantees to Israel is now "off the table."

A senior Israeli official tells me that the U.S. abandoned its plans in part because the request for a 90-day freeze came despite a lack of clarity on "what was going to happen on day 91." While the Palestinian and U.S. sides had hoped to make a deal on borders during that period, the Israelis insisted that they wouldn't "give" a deal on borders without "getting" concessions on some other issue.

"We're entering a period of a few weeks of wanting to go to a different track, and then the question is what that track is," the Israeli official said. "Sometimes doing things out of the spotlight and without having everybody focus on it allows for more progress."

"Their overall commitment to Israeli's qualitative military edge is very strong," the official said, arguing that a promise of fighter jets to Israel was a logical response to a sale of jets to Saudi Arabia. "In the administration and in Congress, there are people who will recognize what that Saudi deal mean for Israel's needs and will be able to continue that discussion," the official said.