WASHINGTON – Israel is offering the Palestinians gestures in place of extending
the settlement moratorium, in hopes of keeping them in peace negotiations once
the freeze expires, Israel’s top US envoy said on Friday.
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and Palestinians are anxious to avoid being blamed for sabotaging the direct
talks that started on Thursday. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
has threatened to walk out if Israel doesn’t extend the moratorium – announced
by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last November to entice Palestinians to
enter negotiations – when it expires at the end of the month.
that President Abbas’s position can sometimes be precarious, and we are trying
to find other means of incentivizing him to stay at the negotiating table,” said
Ambassador to the US Michael Oren, referring to the domestic criticism Abbas has
incurred for getting into direct talks, particularly with the possibility that
the freeze will soon end.
Oren, who was speaking on a conference call
with the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public
Affairs, did not address what incentives were being considered, though greater
Palestinian control of West Bank territory, removing additional checkpoints and
releasing Palestinian security prisoners are possibilities.
Oren did say,
though, that Israel was discussing the issue “very intensely” with the
Palestinians and in “very close negotiations” with the Obama administration as
“Once we are past that hurdle I think we are very confident about
moving very swiftly to reach a historic framework agreement,” he
Oren described Thursday’s meetings between Netanyahu and Abbas, as
well as the Israeli and Palestinian teams, as “serious,” “candid” and “very
He characterized the day as a “very successful launching
of direct talks” that were “conducted in good faith and with a good sense of
friendliness and openness and warmth, so I have good reason to feel
The Obama administration also expressed
“People are pretty upbeat,” one State Department official
said on Friday, the day after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presided
over the opening of talks.
“It’s an important step,” the official said,
and the atmosphere coming out of the first meetings was
Though the American press has repeatedly pointed to the
expiration of the settlement moratorium on September 26 as the first major
obstacle to the talks, the initial hurdle was arguably surmounted last
On Tuesday and Wednesday, Hamas gunmen killed four Israelis and
wounded two others.
Abbas condemned the attacks and ordered arrests of Hamas activists in the West Bank. Netanyahu
stressed the important role of security in any deal, but affirmed his commitment
to the peace process.
Their reactions meant that the momentum of the
negotiation launch was not lost, and the US could continue to present a hopeful
“We welcomed that Netanyahu and Abbas condemned all forms of
violence, just as we condemn all forms of violence,” the State Department
Israel, too, expressed its appreciation.
Mahmoud Abbas came out and condemned the terror attacks, and we appreciate his
doing that and respect his courage in doing so,” Oren said on the conference
Jon Alterman, a Middle East expert with the Center for Strategic
and International Studies, said that both sides had an interest in not letting
the talks be derailed by terrorist attacks.
“The leaders are grown-ups
and they know they [shouldn’t] allow themselves to be pushed around,” he said.
“It would be self-destructive from the Israeli point of view if every time
rejectionists raised their heads you gave them a veto.”
issue still looms large. But the successful kick-off could help neutralize that
“My understanding is that this hasn’t been resolved, but they’re
confident that if they create a positive environment they can get it resolved in
the future,” Alterman said.
In addition to gestures the Israelis are
offering the Palestinians, the sides are discussing compromise formulas where
building would resume just in the settlement blocs Israel expects to retain in a
formal peace deal, and in small rather than attention-grabbing
So far, however, neither side has agreed to these ideas. But
there are three weeks for a solution to be found.
When asked on Friday by
Channel 2 about Abbas’s threat to halt talks, Clinton explained that “part of
what we are doing here is creating an atmosphere that is conducive to a final
agreement that rests on tough decisions,” including resolving permanent-status
issues such as settlements.
She urged “dealing with all of them not in a
piecemeal way, but in a comprehensive way, because each side is going to
make concessions, each side is going to have to make tradeoffs.”
Israelis have been pushing for a comprehensive rather than piecemeal
with Oren arguing on Friday that the Palestinian demand for a settlement
upfront constituted a “cherry-picking” of issues that was unacceptable
In the interview, which was conducted jointly with Palestine TV,
Clinton stressed that she was personally committed to reaching peace
because of her involvement with her husband’s efforts when he was
the 1990s. She described herself as “disappointed” by the failure of
process, noting that she was “the first person ever associated with an
administration who called for a Palestinian state.”
Asked whether the US
was pursuing peace as a way to appease Arab countries ahead of a
on Iran, Clinton firmly rejected the notion.
She did, however, say that
Iran’s activities affected the Israeli-Palestinian situation and were of
to the United States.
“There are connections, but on their own, getting
to a twostate solution is so much in the interests of the entire
In the conference call, Oren was also asked about a linkage between
US policy on the peace process and Iran, following media reports
in exchange for Israeli compliance on negotiations the US would be more
supportive of Jerusalem’s position on Teheran.
“They are completely
separate issues for us, though we strongly feel that if Iran does
nuclear military capabilities it will deal a monumental blow to the
process,” Oren said.
“The United States is not saying that if you do “x”
we will concede “y” in Iran. That is not at all part of the discourse
In terms of aiding the peace process, Oren urged those on the
line to communicate backing for Israel’s peacemaking efforts to US
“Let your feelings be known to your representatives in Congress
that you support this process and you support the decisions of the
government within the process,” he told them.