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End of settlement freeze could derail Mideast talks
A senior Israeli official said in an interview Monday that he expected borders and settlements to be among the first issues discussed in next month’s negotiations.
“When we discuss the issue of settlements and borders, we will want to ensure the major settlement blocks remain part of the state of Israel,” the official said.
Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser under Mr. Bush, who worked closely with Mr. Sharon when he dismantled settlements in Gaza in 2005, said Israel should focus on developing only the settlements it expected to be within its final borders.
“The distinction between settlements Israel is going to keep and settlements beyond the fence is one that is useful now to make,” Mr. Abrams said. “It’s useful in terms of Israeli politics, because most Israelis believe what is beyond the fence will not be part of Israel. Why should Israel be investing in areas that are not going to be settled by Israelis?”
Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, said he thought Mr. Abbas would accept a settlement freeze that excluded the main Jewish settlement blocks.
“Abbas, I think, needs assurances that the U.S. really has secured an informal Israeli commitment only to build in the large blocks and Jewish areas of Jerusalem that are generally understood to be likely parts of a land swap, and not to expropriate any more land in the West Bank or push into Palestinian parts of Jerusalem,” he said.
Mr. Ibish added: “I think confirmation of that from the U.S. and no comment, but sticking to those guidelines by Israel should be enough to keep him at the table even though the road map is quite clear that all activity, including natural growth, is to stop and the U.S. has expressed a similar view.”
Aaron David Miller, who has been a senior Middle East adviser to six secretaries of state, said Mr. Netanyahu, in particular, would need to go further than he has in public on Jerusalem and other issues for the peace talks to be successful this time.
“For the sixth or seventh time in the last 12 years, permanent-status negotiations have started yet again,” Mr. Miller said. “As long as expectations are not raised, and the parties own the process, then the administration is right to do this. No one should abandon hope, but we need to abandon illusions.”
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