US Fails in Settlements Freeze Bid

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Al-Jazeera and Agencies

US Fails in Settlements Freeze Bid

The US suspends efforts to persuade Israel on settlement building freeze.

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The Palestinians say they will not negotiate while Jewish settlers build on land they want for a future state. (EPA)

The United States has suspended its demand for Israel to renew a freeze on Jewish settlement building in the West Bank, throwing Palestinian-Israeli peace talks into deeper disarray.

The
White House and the state department disclosed on Tuesday that weeks of
efforts to broker a new settlement freeze and resuscitate the peace
talks had gone nowhere.

"We have been pursuing a moratorium as a
means to create conditions for a return to meaningful and sustained
negotiations," Philip Crowley, the state department spokesman, told
reporters in a televised press briefing in New York City.

"After a
considerable effort, we have concluded that this does not create a firm
basis to work towards our shared goal of a framework agreement,"
Crowley said.

Continued efforts

Barack Obama, the US president, presided over the relaunch of direct
negotiations in Washington in September, only to see them bog down
within weeks when an Israeli settlement moratorium expired and the Palestinians refused to come back to the table.

Crowley promised continued efforts to try and unblock the Middle East
peace process and said Israeli and Palestinian negotiators would visit
Washington next week to work towards that end.

"We will have further conversations on the substance with the
parties, and we will continue to try to find ways to create the kind of
confidence that will eventually, we hope, allow them to engage
directly," he said.

He indicated that the two sides would engage indirectly with each other rather than directly in talks brokered by US officials.

Al
Jazeera's correspondent in Ramallah Nour Odeh said: "this was certainly
a disappointment for the Palestinians who were expecting a formal
answer from the Obama administration, about their efforts.

"They
have known for some time through media reports about a lucrative deal
that was offered by the Obama administration to Israel in exchange for a
three month settlement freeze. So far none of these efforts have
yielded any results," our correspondent said.

Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian leglislative council,
told Al Jazeera that the US decision meant the end of any peace talks.

"If the US, being the only country that is monopolising control of
the talks, is failing to pressure Israel to abide by what was written in
the road map and what the international community demands - which a
complete freeze to settlement activities - then there is no peace
process and the reason for this is Israel" he said.

"I don't think there is any value to more talks in Washington. Now
they are talking again about proximity talks, this is a funny thing
after having direct talks.

"It is like having an engagement party after the wedding. It doesn't make sense."

'Change in tactics'

Crowley's remarks suggest Palestinian-Israeli peace talks have
returned to the point where they were in May when US envoy George
Mitchell began shuttling between the two sides in so-called "proximity," or indirect negotiations.

Crowley said there "may well be a change in tactics" as the US still
believes that there must "be some kind of direct negotiation" to make
progress on the core issues.

The core issues are Israel's security, the borders of a future
Palestinian state, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of
the holy city of Jerusalem, which both sides claim as their capital.

At the high-profile relaunch of talks in September after a 20-month hiatus, Benyamin Netanyahu,
the Israeli prime minister, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian
president, both vowed to seek agreement on the core issues within a
year.

The two leaders were supposed to meet every two weeks subsequently,
but their direct talks ran aground at the end of September after the
expiry of a 10-month Israeli ban on settlement building in the West
Bank.

The Palestinians say they will not negotiate while Jewish settlers
build on land they want for a future state. Abbas is insisting not only
on a settlement freeze in the West Bank, but also in east Jerusalem,
which Palestinians want for their capital.

In an attempt to revive direct talks,
the US had offered Israel a package of incentives including 20 F-35
fighter planes, worth three billion dollars (2.3 bn euros), in exchange
for a new three-month ban.

Washington also committed not to seek an additional freeze and
pledged to provide Israel with diplomatic support, including vetoing
anti-Israel resolutions at the UN.

The package would also have allowed Israel to continue building in east Jerusalem, over the objections of the Palestinians.

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