US, Israel, PA fail to reach agreement on settlement freeze

December 8, 2010

By HERB KEINON, The Jerusalem Post

Washington looks for new direction in peace process after concluding 90 day freeze won’t lead to breakthrough in talks; Israeli and Palestinian officials to visit Washington in the coming days for discussions.

The US-lead diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is going back to the drawing board, with a senior US official announcing Tuesday night that following consultation with the sides it was determined a further settlement moratorium would not provide the basis for a framework agreement.

The official, in a telephone briefing with reporters in Jerusalem, said that “in the days and weeks ahead” the US would engage with the sides, as well as with other countries in the region, about the “core substantive issues.”

The official said that Israeli and Palestinian officials would visit Washington in the coming days for discussions.  He would not say whether or not these would be direct talks. He was careful in not placing responsibility for the current stalemate on any one party
Israel is expected to be represented at the talks by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho.

The surprise announcement came nearly a month after Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed in principle on 90-day settlement moratorium extension in exchange for a package of incentives from Washington.

Since that time the US has held intensive talks with both Israel and the PA about the precise details of the incentives and what would happen during the three months of negotiations during the freeze.  What emerged, according to diplomatic officials, was a gap between what Israel thought could be achieved during this time, and Palestinian expectations.

The Palestinians, according to Israeli sources, wanted the talks to focus on border issues, in the expectation that this issue would be solved within three months.

Israel, however, refused to commit to this timetable, arguing that it would not talk about borders without talking about security agreements, and that it would not agree to ceding land without knowing in advance what security arrangements would be put in place when it withdrew. Among security arrangements Israel is demanding are an Israeli presence on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state, and that the future state be demilitarized.

According to Israeli sources, the US – after hearing the position of both sides — came to the conclusion that even if there was a moratorium for the next 90 days, it would not ensure success of the process, and that the entire process could actually explode on the 91st day if an agreement on borders was not reached.

Interested in forestalling that scenario, the US has – according to Israeli sources — decided to rethink the entire process, look at the process with “fresh eyes,” and perhaps come up with a new path forward.

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