Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his government won't renew its soon-to-expire freeze on building settlements in the West Bank, although it will tightly limit new construction. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is meeting with Netanyahu on Tuesday, has threatened to abandon the recently renewed peace talks with Israel — the first since 2008 — if Israel resumes building in the occupied territory. Will Israel's limited freeze be enough to keep talks alive? (Watch a report about settlers' life)
This proves Netanyahu isn't serious: Netanyahu, a longtime hawk, insists he wants peace, says Akiva Eldar in Israel's Haaretz, but if he wants skeptics to believe him it's time for a "down payment." Instead of focusing on Israel's right to build housing for West Bank settlers, he should "transfer to the Palestinians a certain percentage of the extensive territories" Israel has designated for future settlements.
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Abbas is the one playing games: "Abbas will walk out if the freeze is not renewed," says Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post. The world "already condemns Israel even for self-defense," so it will be "only too eager to blame" Netanyahu's settlement move for the "negotiation breakdown." But it will be a cynical ploy — the real obstacle to peace is "Palestinian refusal to accept a Jewish state." It's up to Abbas to deliver that, and he can't.
Both sides have reason to give a little: Obama has urged Abbas to "give political maneuvering room to Netanyahu," say the editors of World magazine, and the Palestinian leader should listen. Abbas' electoral mandate expired in 2009, which raises the possibility that Hamas could take over the West Bank. If that happens, moderate Palestinians can forget about establishing their own state and Israel can forget about having a neighbor that recognizes its right to exist.
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