US drops settlement freeze as precondition to peace talks
US officials working to restart peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians will drop their demand for a freeze on Israeli settlements in the West Bank as a precondition for negotiations.
AFP - The United States is suspending its demand that the Israelis issue a new freeze on Jewish settlement building before Middle East peace talks resume, a senior White House official said Tuesday.
"After consultations with the parties, we've determined that a moratorium extension will not at this time determine the best basis for resuming direct negotiations," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The White House said it would continue efforts to try and unblock the stalled Middle East peace process and that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators would visit Washington next week to that end.
"In the coming days and weeks, we'll engage with both sides on the core substantive issues at stake in this conflict... on how to create a firm basis towards the shared goal of a framework agreement on all permanent status issues," the official said. "This was our goal in the beginning, and we remain committed to that goal."
Newly relaunched direct peace talks ran aground at the end of September after the expiry of a 10-month Israeli ban on settlement building.
The Palestinians say they will not negotiate while Jewish settlers build on land they want for a future state.
Last week, a Palestinian official said the United States admitted it had failed.
In an attempt to revive direct talks, the United States had offered Israel a package of incentives including 20 F-35 fighter planes, worth three billion dollars (2.3 billion euros), in exchange for a new three-month ban.
Washington also committed not to seek an additional freeze and pledged to provide Israel with diplomatic support, including vetoing anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations.
The package would also have allowed Israel to continue building in east Jerusalem, over the objections of the Palestinians who want the annexed east part of the city for the capital of their future state.