As direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are set to begin in Washington on September 2, the issue of the building freeze in Judea and Samaria is once again being brought up.
In a statement he made on Monday, US State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley said that the building freeze will be discussed as part of direct talks: "The issue of settlements, the issue of the moratorium... has been a topic of discussion and will be a topic of discussion when the leaders meet with Secretary Clinton on September 2," said Crowley.
Crowley’s statement contradicts Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s earlier statements when she announced the resumption of talks on Friday. Clinton had said the negotiations will take place without conditions. The Quartet's statement on Friday announcing the resumption of talks, also did not include any mention of the freeze.
The Palestinian Authority has long been calling on Israel to halt building in Judea and Samaria as a condition for peace talks. Earlier on Monday, PA chief negotiator Saeb Erakat warned that Israel must chose between "settlements or peace" when direct negotiations resume, according to an AFP report.
Meanwhile, London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper said on Monday that PA President Mahmoud Abbas “was furious” upon hearing Clinton’s Friday statement. The paper quoted informed sources who said that Abbas has asked Presidency Media Spokesman Nabil Abu-Rudaynah to contact US Peace Envoy George Mitchell and express his anger.
The sources said that the US officials were concerned by Abbas’ reaction and were afraid that "the situation would get out of hand". They subsequently contacted Abbas three times in less than one hour in an attempt to explain the situation.
Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will meet with Clinton in Washington on September 2. The negotiations are expected to be conducted under the auspices of US President Barack Obama, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah II, as well as International Quartet Envoy Tony Blair.
The 10-month building freeze imposed by Israel last November is set to expire on September 26. It is unknown whether the freeze will be renewed, but Erakat has warned that “if Mr Netanyahu decides to renew settlement tenders come September 26, he will have decided to stop negotiations.”Israeli officials confirmed on Monday that the government is in quiet talks with the US in search of a solution that will allow for at least some limited construction to take place after September 26, AP reported.
On Monday, MK Yaakov Edri, a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told Arutz7 that he is not “optimistic” that the direct talks would succeed, not only because of the issue of the freeze, but also because “both sides are already preparing their alibis as to why the talks will blow up," as he put it.