U.S. negotiators blame settlements for collapse of talks


JERUSALEM (JTA) — U.S. negotiators said Israel’s settlement policy was the primary reason the peace talks failed.

At least two officials speaking anonymously to Yediot Acharonot in a report May 2 by longtime senior correspondent Nahum Barnea said multiple factors were at play in last month’s collapse of the U.S.-backed talks, but Israel’s settlement policy was preeminent.

“There are a lot of reasons for the peace effort’s failure, but people in Israel shouldn’t ignore the bitter truth — the primary sabotage came from the settlements,” one of the officials said. “The Palestinians don’t believe that Israel really intends to let them found a state when, at the same time, it is building settlements on the territory meant for that state. We’re talking about the announcement of 14,000 housing units, no less. Only now, after talks blew up, did we learn that this is also about expropriating land on a large scale. That does not reconcile with the agreement.”

The officials said Israel’s refusal to address borders in the talks inhibited progress. Had the borders been settled, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could continue to build within the agreed parameters, the officials said, but without such agreement, the continued building exacerbated tensions.

“At this point, it’s very hard to see how the negotiations could be renewed, let alone lead to an agreement,” the officials said. “Towards the end, [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas demanded a three-month freeze on settlement construction. His working assumption was that if an accord is reached, Israel could build along the new border as it pleases. But the Israelis said no.”

One of the quoted officials said the world community pays more attention to Israel’s actions than other countries because it was founded by a U.N. resolution.

“Its prosperity depends on the way it is viewed by the international community,” the official said.

The official added, “The Jewish people are supposed to be smart; it is true that they’re also considered a stubborn nation. You’re supposed to know how to read the map: In the 21st century, the world will not keep tolerating the Israeli occupation. The occupation threatens Israel’s status in the world and threatens Israel as a Jewish state.”

Later in the interview, one of the officials told Yediot, “The Palestinians are tired of the status quo. They will get their state in the end, whether through violence or by turning to international organizations.”

According to one of the officials, the United States is “taking a time-out to think and reevaluate.”

Separately, Haaretz reported Sunday that Martin Indyk, the chief U.S. negotiator, will resign as the U.S. special envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Such reports have been circulating since the collapse of the talks last month.

On April 30, a U.S. official close to Indyk denied he was leaving in a comment to JTA, and on Monday another official confirmed that Indyk was not leaving government.

Prior to assuming this post last July, Indyk headed the Saban Center, a Middle East policy shop, at the Brookings Institution.

Asked whether Indyk was returning, a top Brookings official told JTA, “No comment.”

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