Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today ruled out any deal to extend the West Bank settlement construction freeze, set to expire in September, insisting that its extension would topple Israel’s coalition government.
The claim likely has some validity, as while the government has mostly flouted the freeze in the first place, its nominal existence has been hugely unpopular with most pro-settlement factions in the right-far-right coalition, and a number of key members of the government have angrily warned against even considering its extension.
The announcement may further complicate efforts to convince the Palestinian Authority to accept direct peace talks, as the continuation of the freeze was one of a handful of conditions President Abbas was demanding. Israel has insisted the demands were never intended to be accepted, but were rather meant to give Abbas an excuse to reject the talks.
The Obama Administration has angrily demanded that the Palestinians accept the direct talks, even though weeks of indirect talks have yielded no real progress. President Obama is reported to have threatened to abandon support for a Palestinian state if the talks aren’t accepted.
The demands put Abbas in something of a difficult position, as accepting the direct talks will take considerable pressure off Israel to make any concessions, and will create an illusion of progress toward a peace deal. Rejection comes with a big price as well, as it will make it easier to spin the lack of progress as Abbas’ fault.