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Settlements Moratorium Overshadows Middle East Peace Talks

The official news out of the Middle East peace talks, which resumed today in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, was that they moved in the right direction, with “serious discussions on core issues,” according to envoy George Mitchell. What we heard less about from the Americans hyping these talks was the resolution of the settlement issue, which threatens to derail the negotiations early in the process:

Before the negotiations, Netanyahu rejected the Palestinian demands on settlement freeze in the West Bank in his latest statement, however, he hinted at “midway options” that would see construction resume at a slower pace.

“Between zero and one there are a lot of possibilities,” Netanyahu was quoted as saying in his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, whose midway options shows Israel do not want to see the immediate collapse of the negotiation, but wants to see more concession from the Palestinian side on the issue.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian delegation led by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat reiterated its rejection of Israel’s continued settlement activities, and the Fatah Central Committee urged the Palestinian National Authority to suspend direct talks if settlement construction was not frozen in the West Bank.

I don’t think the talks continue if Netanyahu tries a middling approach. You can only be so upbeat without addressing the elephant in the room. Hillary Clinton understands this, and according to the UK Telegraph is focused directly on the settlements as the first issue to overcome.

Mrs Clinton repeated President Barack Obama’s call for an extension of the moratorium, she also insisted that a compromise could be found to satisfy both parties.

She said: “This has to be understood as an effort by both the prime minister (Netanyahu) and the president (Abbas) to get over a hurdle posed by the expiration of the original moratorium in order to continue negotiations.

“Remember the goal is to work toward agreement on core issues like borders and territory that would, if agreed upon, eliminate the debate about settlements.”

Some kind of glib, fancy compromise on the settlements issue is bound to fail. You wouldn’t have to issue one new permit for 38,000 units to immediately resume construction upon the end of the moratorium on September 30. I don’t really see the path forward unless one side or the other blinks, and this would precipitate howls among either the settlers or the Palestinian people, depending on the nature of the compromise.

They have sixteen days to figure this one out.

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David Dayen

David Dayen