The Obama administration hinted on Monday that next year's deadline for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal could slip even if both sides quickly return to negotiations.
The State Department said the goal of reaching an agreement in one year's time may no longer be realistic because of an deadlock over Israeli settlements. That deadline was set when the talks began in September but the negotiations quickly stalled on the settlement issue.
"It does remain our view that an agreement can be reached within a reasonable period of time," spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters. "When the process started, we said this could be accomplished within 12 months. Hard to say at this point, given the delay over the issue of settlements, where we stand on that clock."
"If we get to August 2011 and we need a little more time to get this done, we'll take that time," he said.
Crowley declined to comment on a package of diplomatic and military incentives that the admnistration is offering to Israel in exchange for a freeze on settlement activity in the West Bank. He said only that the US was committed to bringing the parties back to the negotiating table.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented
the US proposal to his Cabinet over
the weekend. But Israel's government may decline to approve the plan, and even if it does the Palestinians may not agree to return to talks.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday called Israel's consideration of the proposal "a very promising development."
"We're going to continue to do everything we possibly can to get the parties to begin the kind of serious end-game negotiations that are necessary," she said.
Meanwhile, senior Likud officials who are close to Netanyahu estimated that the "rebellion" within the party against the plan to freeze settlement construction would not gain steam.
"The chances of a serious move against the prime minister are low," one of the Likud officials said. "Silvan Shalom, Moshe Ya'alon, Gilad Erdan, Moshe Kahlon and others are steering clear of such actions because they know nothing serious can be done to prevent the freeze."
Benny Begin, one of the few ministers to speak openly against a new moratorium, does not plan to resign.
Right-wing ministers said Netanyahu offered Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias (Shas) to lower housing prices in exchange for his support of a freeze. They said the offer is too good to pass up because the rising apartment prices are hurting the haredi population.
Shas said it would abstain from the cabinet vote on a freeze.
Yair Altman contributed to the report