Israel Settlement Construction Undermined Talks, U.S. Envoy Says

Israel’s continued settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem was a major reason for the failure of the most recent round of peace talks, U.S. special envoy Martin Indyk said.

More than eight months of talks, accompanied by barrages of mutual recriminations, went off the rails at the beginning of April after Israel didn’t go through with the last of four promised releases of Palestinian prisoners, then announced the settlement plans. The Palestinians, who want to establish a future capital in east Jerusalem, retaliated by resuming their statehood campaign outside negotiations.

“The combinations of tenders and planning -- 8,000 planning units were announced, and coming as each tranche of prisoners were released -- had a dramatically damaging impact on the negotiations,” Indyk said at the 2014 Weinberg Founders Conference in Washington late yesterday.

Talks are also stalled after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to reconcile with Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the European Union and the U.S. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he won’t talk to a Palestinian government that includes Hamas.

Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, said the final step that led to the suspension of talks at the end of April was the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation announcement “while we were working intensively on an effort to extend the negotiations.”

Resuming Talks

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is now demanding a three-month freeze of all settlement activity as a prerequisite to resuming talks, which is impossible to deliver, Indyk said.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can no more do a construction freeze in the West Bank and east Jerusalem than he could before we started the negotiations because that would collapse his government,” he said.

Netanyahu, in his last term in 2009, froze most construction in the West Bank for 10 months in a bid to restart talks. Abbas dismissed the move as insufficient and failed to return to negotiations during that period.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said he preferred not to comment.

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