After historic overtures to the Palestinian cause, the Obama administration has dropped its demand that Israel halt settlements in the West Bank as a precondition for negotiations. Secretary of State Clinton traveled to Israel to make the announcement, lavishing praise on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an effort to repair strained relations between the two countries. Palestinians balked, however, at American calls to return to talks without a freeze on settlements, calling the negotiations paralyzed. "The result of Israel's intransigence and America's back-pedaling is that there is no hope for negotiations on the horizon," said a spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas. The position reversal delighted Israelis. "The U.S. administration understands what we have always said—that the real obstacle to negotiations are the Palestinians,” said one official.