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Wednesday Dec. 8, 2010 10:43 AM (EST+7)
US mulls reviving indirect Middle East peace talks

Read more: US, Israel, Palestinians, indirect talks, negotiations, peace talks, settlements, settlement freeze

WASHINGTON, Dec 7 (Reuters) - The United States is weighing a return to indirect Israeli-Palestinian peace talks following its failure to revive direct negotiations because of disagreements over Israeli settlement construction, two U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said on Tuesday.

Earlier, a senior U.S. official said the United States had abandoned its effort to persuade Israel to extend its partial moratorium construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, a significant blow to U.S. efforts to broker a peace deal.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there were three reasons why the Obama administration decided to abandon that effort.

First, they said that while Israel was willing to extend the moratorium it was not willing to freeze construction in East Jerusalem, something Palestinian officials had demanded. East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as the capital of a Palestinian state, was not included in the original freeze.

(Extending) the moratorium did not close the gap between the two parties, said one U.S. official.

Second, the officials said that unless they made sufficient progress during a temporary Israeli extension of the moratorium -- say by 90 days -- they could end up in the same place in three months still struggling to keep the peace process alive.

We had to be prepared to think that substantial progress could be made in 90 days, said the same U.S. official, suggesting there was enough uncertainty about this that it did not seem worth proceeding.

Finally, they said that there were some concerns about the size of the incentives the United States offered Israel -- which Israeli sources said included 20 F-35 stealth fighters worth $3 billion -- for only a temporary extension.

The officials said one possibility they would explore with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials who are expected to visit Washington -- possibly within the next week -- would be resuming indirect peace talks.

Under this plan, U.S. officials would shuttle back and forth between the two sides. Both officials said this was how talks would proceed with Israeli and Palestinian officials when they come to Washington and that there were no plans for a three-way meeting. (Reporting by Arshad Mohammed, editing by Anthony Boadle)






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