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September 27, 2010

Reports: US to Propose Israel Settlement Compromise

U.S. envoy George Mitchell is set to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday - reportedly to discuss a U.S. proposal that Israel extend a partial West Bank settlement freeze for 60 days in exchange for security assurances and other guarantees.

U.S. and Israeli media reports, citing sources close to the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, say senior American officials have already briefed Israeli leaders on the proposal - including the prime minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Mitchell will also meet separately this week with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other Arab leaders in the region on an urgent mission to keep the peace talks going.

Gideon Lichfield, Deputy Online Editor of the Economist, discusses how the Arab world views the situation in the Middle East:

Mitchell's visit comes as Israel has resumed settlement construction in the West Bank, prompting Mr. Abbas to threaten a walkout.

The Palestinian leader says he will decide whether to quit the talks after consulting senior Arab officials next week.  However, he says if settlement construction continues, Palestinians will be obliged to end their participation.

Mr. Netanyahu says he will meet with Mr. Abbas in Paris, next month.  A statement from the prime minister's office says the meeting resulted from an invitation extended by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.  

No specific date in October is mentioned.  However, the statement quotes Mr. Netanyahu as saying it is "essential" that his "good talks" with Mr. Abbas continue.

Palestinian officials have called on Israel to re-impose the freeze on construction for three or four more months.  The freeze expired late Sunday.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States is frustrated that the settlement dispute is holding up negotiations, but is convinced the parties involved can overcome the challenge.

Meanwhile, tt the United Nations Tuesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that when final borders are drawn, they must reflect the demographic realities on the ground.  Lieberman said a "mismatch between borders and nationalities is a recipe for conflict."

The Israeli foreign minister has proposed redrawing borders to place some Arab citizens under Palestinian jurisdiction, while keeping hold of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Mr. Netanyahu's office objected to Lieberman's address, saying the prime minister is heading negotiations and that issues related to the peace process will be decided at the negotiating table, not anywhere else.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.