Dead end: U.S. drops demand for Israeli settlement freeze in ongoing peace talks

Could be the end of this latest futile round of the peace process, with the next futile round to begin at a date as yet undetermined. Sometime in The One’s second term, perhaps?

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.

The fear is that even if the freeze went into effect, the parties might not be able to get their priorities straight — which, one would think, would have been something agreed to before talks ever began — and the resulting collapse in talks would actually make the situation worse. Also, and as always, there’s a dispute over east Jerusalem: The Palestinians want settlement-building frozen there too but Israel wants the U.S. to guarantee that it would be exempt from the three-month moratorium. No such guarantee was made and so here we are, with Obama and Hillary scrambling to find some sort of inducement to keep the talks from collapsing. How they’re going to do that without reaching an agreement on east Jerusalem first, I have no idea. In fact, a Palestinian negotiator said last week that if settlement construction resumed in the city, they’d start pushing for international recognition of a Palestinian state whether Israel and the U.S. like it or not. So this isn’t necessarily a situation where The One can now walk away; the Palestinian Authority, if it chooses to, could force the issue depending upon which nations are willing to antagonize Israel and America by formally recognizing it. Quite a dilemma for Egypt and Jordan, for starters.

Elsewhere in Middle East negotiations, the latest round of nuclear talks between the west and Iran are a big zero too. I hope for his sake that START gets ratified, because that might be the last foreign policy “victory” for a good long while.

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