Israel’s ambassador to the US has said that settlement building has never been an obstacle to making peace, just days after Washington ended attempts to push the Israelis into extending a moratorium on building the West Bank.
"Settlements have never been an obstacle to making peace – not with the Egyptians, not with the Jordanians, not with even negotiating with the Palestinians for about 17 years," Michael Oren said on Saturday.
"We don’t see why they should be an obstacle now. We understand they are an issue, and we are, again, committed to resolving them within the context of those core issues: borders, territory and security."
The Palestinians have set the halt of all building in the occupied West Bank as a condition for the resumption of direct peace talks with Israel.
The US-brokered negotiations have been stalled since shortly after their launch.
The White House conceded on Tuesday that it had been unable to get the Israelis to accept an extension to a 10-month moratorium on new building that expired in September.
PJ Crowley, the US state department spokesman, said there "may well be a change in tactics," suggesting a return to indirect negotiations, as the US still believes that there must "be some kind of direct negotiation" to make progress on the core issues.
Oren said on Saturday that Israel was looking forward to addressing those ”core issues”.
"First of all we’re we are very committed to moving forward, we want to move forward to achieving a framework peace agreement, within the shortest possible time, on all the core issues," he said.
"Not just territory, the refugees, the questions of security are very paramount for us so we are committed to moving forward, hopefully through direct talks with the Palestinians."
The so-called core issues are understood by both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to include borders and security, settlements, water, refugees, and Jerusalem itself, which Israel says is its capital but which the Palestinians also hope will serve as the capital of any future independent state.
In 1979, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 446, calling on Israel to halt settlement construction and stating that the settlements "have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East".
Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, but no action has been taken to halt settlement construction in the West Bank.
The ambassador’s remarks came after Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, said that Washington would urge Palestinian and Israeli leaders to work on such issues.
Clinton made it clear on Friday that the two sides must take responsibility for reaching a framework peace deal.
"The United States and the international community cannot impose a solution. The parties themselves have to want it," she said.
However, she said that the US would work on narrowing the gaps and also offer proposals to move talks along "when appropriate" .
Clinton’s speech followed an intense week of diplomacy in Washington, during which she met with the chief Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators as well as Tzipi Livni, former Israeli foreign minister, Salam Fayyad, Palestinian prime minister and Ehud Barak, Israeli defence minister.
(Agencies via Aljazeera)