JERUSALEM - Washington is to demand Israel implement a partial settlement freeze after US Secretary of State John Kerry presents his framework for extending peace talks, army radio reported on Wednesday. Quoting US negotiators involved in the talks, the radio said the United States was hoping to obtain a freeze on construction in isolated settlements outside the major West Bank blocs, which Israel hopes to retain in any peace deal. A settlement bloc is an area where clusters of settlements have been established in relatively close proximity to one another, in which the majority of the West Bank’s 367,000 settlers currently live.
Kerry, who is to meet Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas in Paris on Wednesday night, is currently working on a framework that would allow the ongoing talks to be extended beyond an April deadline until the end of the year.
Launched in July 2013, the talks have shown very little visible progress since they began, with both sides at loggerheads over a series of issues, including Israel’s ongoing settlement construction on land which the Palestinians want for a future state.
The framework agreement is reportedly to be made public early next month when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets US President Barack Obama at the White House. The Palestinians have been infuriated by the ongoing construction, which has seen Israel advance plans for more than 11,700 new settler homes since the talks started, and they have baulked at any talk of extending the nine-month negotiating period.
They have also said that when the April deadline expires, they will resume moves to seek further international recognition, a step which they agreed to suspend for the duration of the talks.
Netanyahu’s office refused to comment on the report.
“The Israeli side is well aware that the framework will not be enough to convince Abu Mazen (Abbas) to remain at the negotiating table without Israel giving him something else,” the radio said.
Israel has insisted its settlement construction does not violate its commitments in line with the negotiations, and has until now rejected pressure to renew a one-time, 10-month partial freeze on new West Bank building, which expired in late 2010, contributing to the collapse of an earlier round of talks.