Israeli and Palestinian leaders will finally meet again next month, nearly two years after negotiations were halted. Face-to-face talks between the two sides is a bit of a diplomatic coup for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And the framing is ambitious, with a goal to "relaunch direct negotiations to resolve all final-status issues, which we believe can be completed within one year."
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had said his side would not come to the table unless Israel froze construction of settlements. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said any halt in the building of Jewish homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem should be part of the negotiations—not a precondition.
The issue brought Israeli-U.S. relations to their lowest point in decades in March, after Israel’s government announced expansion of settlements in East Jerusalem just as Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Israel to push on that very issue. The Israelis did agree last fall to a half-measure, a 10-month freeze on new building in the West Bank. The moratorium didn’t apply to building within East Jerusalem or ongoing construction projects in the West Bank.
But the further growth of settlements during the negotiations is likely to be as much a sticking point as it was in the past. The partial moratorium on their construction is set to expire Sept. 26. And members of Israel’s right-wing coalition have said that after that date construction will be back to normal.
"When we took the decision on the settlement freeze, we said explicitly that it was only for 10 months and that afterward life would return to the way it was," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said during a visit to a settlement.