Are the peace talks on the verge of breakdown? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed – but the biweekly meetings the two leaders agreed upon seem to have gotten off to a bumpy start.
The expiration of the moratorium placed on West Bank settlement construction and ensuing tensions seem to have put the entire peace process on hold. US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell is expected to arrive in Israel, in an effort to somehow circumvent a deadlock in the talks, but the Palestinians said it is unlikely that negotiations will resume prior to the next Arab League conference, set for October 4.
Although the Americans are applying pressure in an effort to reach an agreement over the settlements before the Arab League convenes, direct negotiations seem to have been halted for the moment.
Sources in Jerusalem estimate that Palestinians are interested to resume talks, and will certainly not declare them over officially prior to the US midterm elections in November, so not to harm US President Barack Obama.
However, if a solution is not found before the Arab League convenes – Mitchell will once again become the key mediator between the two sides, as direct talks will be called off. Government officials told Ynet that Netanyahu will not agree to a complete construction freeze, and that he will not be able to garner the majority needed to pass such a decision.
The sources noted that the prime minister will most likely agree to limit construction to permits granted before the moratorium began.
Sources in the Likud blamed the United Stated for the current situation. A Likud official noted that "Americans wanted the freeze, and Netanyahu asked for guarantees in exchange, but did not receive any.
"The Americans thwarted the whole deal. They could have told the Palestinians that the 10-month construction freeze was over, but instead Obama complicated matters and demanded an extension."
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni cautioned Netanyahu against deadlocking the talks, but said Kadima will back any government decision that promotes negotiations with the Palestinians.
The 'settlements for peace' formula
Source in the Palestinian Authority said Monday night that while no real progress is expected in the peace process despite Mitchell's visit, and any decision will have to wait until after the Arab League conference, it is unlikely that the Arab League will try and torpedo the negotiations, should they resume.
The PA, added the sources, believes Washington will pressure Israel to restrict any settlement construction to the larger settlement blocs. Meanwhile, Egypt has urged European nations to pressure Israel against bringing about the end of the talks as a result of the end of the settlement freeze.
The Palestinians said that in the last few days, the world has begun seeing that the main equation in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is "settlement movement for peace" and that the international community now understands that it is the Israeli government's inability to publicly declare that the majority of the settlements would be evacuated eventually, that is compromising the negotiation.
Ali Waked contributed to this report
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