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
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Frank Turner performing at 93 Feet East
musicReview: 93 Feet East, London
News
Toronto tops the charts across a range of indexes
news

World cities ranked in terms of safety, food security and 'liveability'

Extras
indybest
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Content Manager

£26000 - £31000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Content Manager is re...

Recruitment Genius: Senior .Net Application Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £17500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will b...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee