Palestinian negotiators were claiming a victory today when, during his speech to the UN General Assembly, President Barack Obama declared that the US considers Israel’s settlements in the West Bank illegitimate.
At the same time, Israeli officials don’t seem to be taking the comment particularly seriously, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was instead hailing the speech as a victory for the Israeli position, since Obama insisted that peace talks should restart “without preconditions” and praised Israel’s nature as a “Jewish state.” Palestinian Authority officials have ruled out peace talks until Israel agrees to stop expanding the settlements.
While Obama’s comments regarding the settlements may hold some rhetorical value, his top negotiator for the region only yesterday insisted that a settlement freeze, which Obama had previously sought, was no longer considered “essential.”
President Obama was pressing for the settlement freeze for months, insisting that all construction had to stop and that he considered no difference between East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank. Eventually, however, he capitulated and abandoned essentially all his demands. Now the administration is negotiating with Israel over how long their “new construction” freeze, which won’t cover East Jerusalem at all, will last… it seems likely this will be only a few months, and even then it won’t slow construction in any serious way.
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