WASHINGTON (JTA) – House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the Palestinians are to blame for the lack of peace talks.
"I think the largest thing impeding the negotiations at this point is simply the unwillingness of [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas to sit down" with the Israelis, Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters in Jerusalem, according to media reports.
Hoyer is heading a delegation of 29 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives visiting Israel this week.
The majority leader also appeared to disagree with the adminstration’s approach on the Middle East, downplaying the importance of settlements as an issue and saying they should be a subject of negotiations.
"I don’t think settlements are nearly the big issue that confronts the Palestinians and the Israelis in reaching an agreement," Hoyer said.
"The United States’ policy has been for a stop to any additional settlements. That is a thorny, tough issue," he said, adding later that "it’s an issue that has to be solved at the negotiating table."
Leading a delegation of congressional Republicans in Israel last week, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) criticized the Obama administration’s focus on settlements.
Abbas said Thursday that Palestinians would not return to peace talks unless Israel halted "all forms of settlement activity without exception in Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied territories." He was speaking at the first meeting of the new 23-member Fatah Central Committee, according to the French news agency AFP.
Hoyer’s delegation did not meet with Abbas because of a scheduling conflict, but did meet with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad and a number of Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.