- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 7, 2010

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli talks with Washington meant to curb settlement construction and restart negotiations with the Palestinians have been put on hold, Israel’s defense minister said Tuesday.

The United States has pressed Israel to renew a moratorium on new settlement construction in exchange for security and diplomatic assurances. But Israel wants a written pledge that disputed east Jerusalem will be exempted from the moratorium.

Palestinians say they won’t return to stalled peace talks unless Israel halts all building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — lands they want for part of their future state.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a parliamentary committee Tuesday that talks with the American side have been postponed because Washington was busy dealing with fallout from secret documents released on the WikiLeaks website, as well as with tensions between North and South Korea.

“For now, the matter has been stopped entirely because of the Americans’ lack of attention and concentration,” Mr. Barak said.

Peace talks began in September but ground to a halt three weeks later after Israel’s original moratorium on new West Bank construction expired.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned from a November trip to the United States with a list of security and diplomatic guarantees, including 20 next-generation stealth fighter planes and U.S. pledges to veto anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations, according to Israeli officials. In exchange, Israel was to renew limits on settlement construction that expired in late September.

But days later, the deal snagged after members of Mr. Netanyahu’s Cabinet demanded a written pledge from the United States that the moratorium would exclude east Jerusalem. Such a pledge has not materialized.

The United States hopes a renewed moratorium would allow Israel and the Palestinians to make significant progress toward working out a deal on their future borders.

With borders determined, Israel could resume building on any territories it would expect to keep under a final peace deal.