Middle East peace push faces settlement deadline

A 10-month freeze on new construction in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank expires today, imperilling Middle East peace talks less than a month after their launch by US President Barack Obama.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said repeatedly he will walk out of direct negotiations with Israel unless the partial halt to building remains in place. Palestinians view Israel's settlements as a formidable obstacle to statehood.

Obama has urged Israel to continue the freeze, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose coalition is packed with pro-settler parties, has offered only to limit the scope of renewed building rather than order a moratorium extension.

Israeli and Palestinian officials met US diplomats in New York at the weekend to try to find a solution and to prevent the much-heralded negotiations, which began on Sept. 2, from falling at the first hurdle.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who held talks over the past several days in New York on the issue, said there was a better than even chance the peace negotiations would continue even without a moratorium.

"I think that the chance of achieving a mutually agreed understanding about (a) moratorium is 50-50. I think that the chances of having a peace process is much higher," he said in a BBC interview.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Washington was "doing everything we can to keep the parties in the direct talks". He said U.S. special envoy on the Middle East, George Mitchell, met Abbas for 30 minutes on Saturday.

The freeze expires at midnight (2200 GMT) but some of Netanyahu's allies, including members of his own Likud party, are planning to mark the end of the moratorium earlier, by holding a cornerstone-laying ceremony for new homes in the remote Revava settlement in the northern West Bank at sundown on today.

More than 430,000 Jews live in well over 100 settlements established across the West Bank and East Jerusalem on land that Israel captured from Jordan in a 1967 Middle East war.

The World Court deems settlements as illegal, although Israel disputes this.

Palestinians say they will make it impossible for them to create a viable state and the issue is one of the core problems standing in the way of any peace deal.

Abbas holds sway only in the West Bank, having lost control of the Gaza Strip in internal Palestinian fighting in 2007 to Hamas Islamists who oppose his peace efforts with Israel.

Israeli leaders have said many of the big settlement blocs will inevitably remain part of Israel and have suggested swapping land with the Palestinians to compensate for the lost territory.

Netanyahu says no other Israeli leader has been forced to suspend building work while entering peace negotiations and argues that the talks should continue without preconditions.

There were very low expectations attached to these latest efforts to end the decades-old conflict, but a failure to find a compromise over the freeze before even hitting core issues, such as the future of the settlements and the status of Palestinian refugees, could sink the peace process for years.

When US efforts to broker a deal at Camp David collapsed in 2000, Palestinians rose up in what became known as the Second Intifada, with more than 500 Israelis killed in 140 Palestinian suicide bomb attacks from 2000 to 2007. At least 4,000 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces.

The Israeli military says failure this time around would probably not lead to a generalised uprising, but it is braced for an increase in violence after months of relative calm.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

£13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent