Abandoning the terminology the US has been using in months of urging a halt to growth in the Israeli outposts on land claimed by Palestinians, Obama Tuesday referred to “restraining” settlement activity, rather than freezing it.
"Obama told Abbas that he couldn't get the settlement freeze and promised to keep trying, but that it shouldn't be a condition for talks and it was time to move on," one Palestinian aide to Abbas said.
Several U.S. officials said that Obama told Abbas that although the U.S. believe a settlement freeze would create a better atmosphere for talks to begin, the lack of one should not be used an as excuse not to talk.
"Let's not have the perfect be the enemy of the good," Obama told Abbas, according to the officials.
Administration officials insisted later that the U.S. position on Jewish settlements had not changed. But the shift in language was widely interpreted by Palestinians and Israelis as a sign the Obama administration was jettisoning a U.S. stance that had alienated many Israelis and their U.S. supporters.
About 300,000 Israeli settlers now live in 121 settlements in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since the 1967 war and where Palestinians hope to establish their future state. (Read the Christian Science Monitor’s briefing on where, when, and why Israeli settlements are built.)
It is unclear where this move leaves the possible peace negotiations. Mr. Abbas has so far refused to begin negotiations with Israel until it declares a full halt to the growth of the outposts. According to the conservative Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu told Israeli reporters after the meeting that Abbas had dropped preconditions for the talks, and discussions were now focused on the framework of negotiations.