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Saturday, September 25, 2010

West Bank settlement deadline looms for Mid-East talks

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Ehud Barak was Israeli prime minister when President Bill Clinton sought to make Middle East peace

Diplomats are seeking a last-minute deal as a 10-month Israeli ban on settlement-building winds down, putting Middle East peace talks at risk.
In New York, Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak told the BBC there was a "50-50" chance of a compromise deal.
Palestinians have said they could leave the recently resumed peace talks if Israel does not extend its ban.
Settlers in the West Bank are preparing to resume construction late on Sunday if no deal is reached on an extension.
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks resumed in September after a 20-month hiatus.
But no agreement has yet been reached on the key issue of Israel's settlements - which Israel says are no bar to talks - despite intensive efforts from US negotiators.

Speaking exclusively to the BBC's diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall, Mr Barak said he was heading back to Israel to try to convince members of the Israeli government of the need for a compromise, but that he was not confident of success.

However, he was more upbeat on the prospects for the peace talks, suggesting there was a 50% chance of reaching a deal with the Palestinians about the settlement moratorium.
The chances of the peace process continuing nonetheless were better than even, Mr Barak said.
In a speech on Saturday to the United Nations General Assembly, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Israel must choose between peace and the continuation of settlements.
Palestinians were willing and ready to reach a comprehensive and just peace agreement with Israel, Mr Abbas told the assembly, declaring that their "wounded hands" carried an olive branch to the Israelis.
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Abbas insisted Israel must stop all settlement-building

Mr Abbas said the Palestinians would make every effort to reach a peace deal with Israel within one year.
He also criticised Israel, which he said had a "mentality of expansion and domination" and continued to blockade the Gaza Strip and imprison Palestinians.
But Mr Abbas stopped short of publicly threatening to withdraw from talks with Israel if the moratorium is not extended.
It seems likely that a frantic search for a compromise is still going on behind the scenes, our diplomatic correspondent adds.
Despite this, if Mr Abbas flinches first and offers a compromise, for many Palestinians this will reinforce his reputation as a weak leader, says the BBC's Jon Donnison, in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
If he holds his ground and pulls out of the talks he could be portrayed as the spoiler, our correspondent adds.
Israel's 10-month freeze on West Bank settlement-building expires at midnight local time on Sunday (2200 GMT).
What have we learnt from Ehud Barak and Mahmoud Abbas?
Neither wants to see peace talks founder over settlements, even though they leave New York without a solution.
Mr Abbas said Israel had to choose between peace and settlements, but stopped short of threatening to pull out if the moratorium was not extended.
Ehud Barak admitted he was not confident he could get colleagues to accept a compromise when he gets home - but he still gives the peace process a better than even chance of surviving.
And everyone now seems to agree with President Obama that if this logjam can be overcome, and if there is enough political will, then why shouldn't there be a peace deal leading to an independent Palestinian state within a year?
When he made this the centrepiece of his UN speech, many saw it as risky for a US president to stake his prestige on such an elusive ambition. But now it's been endorsed by both sides.
All well and good, but it is also possible of course that one or both of the Palestinian president and Israeli defence minister were deliberately putting an optimistic gloss on the situation, in order not to be blamed if indeed talks are about to get derailed.
Is the glass half full? Or half empty? Fifty-fifty can be read either way.

Continue reading the main story
Right-wing politicians in Israel are calling for a swift resumption of construction, and are backing settlers' plans to resume building as soon as possible.
"The building needs to restart - there are some 2,000 (housing) units that are already approved," Sport and Culture Minister Limor Livnat, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, told the AFP news agency.
At least one other pro-settler Likud MP, Danny Danon, plans to attend a symbolic ground-breaking ceremony at the settlement of Revava on Sunday, his office said.
"Our policy now is to resume a natural pace of building," said Naftali Bennett, director general of the settlers' organisation, the Yesha council.
However, any resumption of construction is likely to be small in scale, correspondents say, as most projects will require approval from Israel's defence ministry.
On Thursday, US President Barack Obama urged Israel to extend its moratorium, saying it had "made a difference on the ground, and improved the atmosphere for talks".
More than 430,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The international community considers the settlements illegal, although Israel disputes this.

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