The United States has denied reports that it is in the process of agreeing to compromise on its position that all Israeli settlement construction should be completely frozen.
US denies making deal with Israel
RAMALLAH // The United States has denied reports that it is in the process of agreeing to a deal with Israel to resume Palestinian-Israeli negotiations that would see Washington compromise on its position that all Israeli settlement construction should be completely frozen. Israeli media had reported that Washington might be willing to let Israel continue settlement construction in East Jerusalem in exchange for a temporary freeze on similar construction elsewhere in the West Bank.
The reported deal would have represented a step back from the Obama administration's stance that Israel, in line with its road map obligations, should halt all settlement construction in the Occupied Territories and dismantle so-called settlement outposts, settlements established without express Israeli government permission. The road map is the 2002 peace plan put forward by the previous US administration that was partly based on the recommendations of George Mitchell, a former senator and the US envoy to the Middle East.
On Friday, a state department spokesman said there had been no change in the US position on a settlement freeze. "We put forward our ideas, publicly and privately, about what it will take for negotiations to be restarted, but ultimately it'll be up to the parties themselves, with our help, to determine whether that threshold has been met," P J Crowley, the spokesman, said. Mr Crowley nevertheless left room for a possible compromise, saying that although the US was asking both the Palestinians and Israelis to live up to their commitments under the road map, "we're asking them what they're prepared to do and to demonstrate the steps that they are prepared to take that allow us to have confidence that these negotiations can be restarted".
The mooted US-Israel deal, which has been regularly rumoured over the past weeks, would have been extremely difficult for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president and head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, to agree to. Mr Abbas has repeatedly insisted that negotiations with Israel cannot resume unless there is a complete settlement construction freeze. That, however, would be very difficult for the Israeli right-wing coalition government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, to live with. Several of the parties in the coalition, including Mr Netanyahu's own Likud Party, are committed to the settlement project.
The United States is trying to find some common ground between the two positions, but Mr Crowley ruled out imposing conditions on any side. Arab countries, which under the reported deal would be asked to undertake certain confidence-building measures vis-à-vis Israel, would also be reluctant to endorse any deal that leaves East Jerusalem out of a settlement freeze. On Friday, Ahmed Abul-Gheit, the Egyptian foreign minister, voiced Cairo's opposition to the reported deal.
Jerusalem, he said, could not be excluded in any agreement on a settlement freeze. The city, he continued, is Arab and "would continue to be so". @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org