Israel welcomes shift in U.S. peace effort

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (BestGrowthStock) – Israel on Monday hailed Washington’s decision to stop pressing for a settlement freeze as a U.S. envoy faced the tough task of moving toward peace after the collapse of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks.

“I welcome this American decision. It is good for Israel. It is good for peace,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who resisted U.S., Palestinian and international calls for a construction moratorium, said in a speech in Tel Aviv.

With face-to-face Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at an end for now over the settlement impasse, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced on Friday that Washington would refocus efforts on a return to indirect talks.

U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, back in the region for a fresh round of shuttle diplomacy, was due to meet Netanyahu at 7 p.m. (1700 GMT) and see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday.

Clinton said the United States would push to resolve core issues of the six-decade-old conflict and expected to hear detailed Israeli and Palestinian positions.

Those issues include borders, security, the future of Jerusalem and settlements in territory Israel occupied in a 1967 war and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

“To reach peace, we have to discuss the issues that are truly delaying peace … I welcome the fact that we will now begin discussing these issues and try to narrow gaps,” Netanyahu said in his speech to a business forum.

SETTLEMENT BUILDING

Palestinian officials, who have been highly critical of the U.S. policy shift, said the seriousness of any coming political process would depend on foundations including a halt to settlement building and clear terms of reference.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation’s executive committee, which convened on Monday, said Israel’s policy “threatened the stability of the region” and showed that its priorities were “settlement, expansion and perpetuating the occupation.”

The Palestinians had demanded a full halt to settlement building before any more peace talks. They fear Jewish settlement expansion on land where they aim to found their state will render that goal impossible.

Palestinian officials have voiced concern that Israel would try to undermine any indirect negotiations by avoiding discussion of future borders of a state they intend to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, occupied by Israel in 1967.

Israel and the Palestinians began direct peace talks in Washington in September but they broke down several weeks later when Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month freeze of housing starts in settlements in the occupied West Bank.

(Additional reporting by Ramallah bureau; Editing by Maria Golovnina)

Israel welcomes shift in U.S. peace effort