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Settlement freeze dispute threatens direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are likely to remain elusive after Israeli officials said they could reject the settlement freeze Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas listed as a necessary precondition for any negotiations.

An excavator works near houses under construction in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Beitar Ilit, near Bethlehem, March 8. Israel and the Palestinian Authority continue to be at odds over a settlement freeze.

Amir Cohen/Reuters

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An Israeli settlement freeze is emerging as the biggest obstacle to resuming direct talks aimed at ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to announce as early as Monday his willingness to enter such negotiations, but with preconditions Israel has said it is not prepared to accept.

“The Palestinians are looking for either an Israeli commitment to a settlement freeze, or a Quartet [European Union, United States, United Nations, and Russia] statement that would be accepted by both sides as a basis for negotiations,” says Ghassan Khatib, director of the Palestinian Authority government’s media center. “We are looking for a settlement freeze according to the definition of Quartet … road map – adopted by the United Nations Security Council – which called for a settlement freeze in all occupied areas including East Jerusalem.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner cabinet reportedly met this weekend to discuss a possible continuation of a 10-month Israeli freeze due to expire on Sept. 26. Palestinians have criticized that freeze as inadequate, because it did not include East Jerusalem, although it became clear this spring that a de facto freeze had been implemented.

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