Washington talks end without agreement on Israeli settlements

© Reuters. Jason Greenblatt, US President Trump‘s envoy for the Middle East, meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem.

By Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration reiterated its concerns about Israeli settlement activity, the two sides said Thursday, when a round of talks ended without an agreement on limiting future construction on land Palestinians want for a state. .

The four days of high-level meetings in Washington marked the latest step by President Donald Trump’s advisers to pave the way for renewed peace diplomacy between Israel and the Palestinians, despite deep skepticism in the United States and the Middle East about the chances of success.

Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, who recently returned from a visit to the region, led the US delegation in what was described as “intense discussions” with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, and foreign policy adviser Jonathan Schachter.

Despite setting a more positive tone toward Israel than his predecessor Barack Obama, Trump urged Netanyahu during a visit to the White House last month to “hold back the settlements a little bit.” The two then agreed that their aides would seek an agreement on how much Israel can build and where.

“The US delegation reiterated President Trump’s concerns regarding settlement activity in the context of moving toward a peace agreement,” according to a joint statement issued by the White House.

“The Israeli delegation made it clear that Israel’s intention in the future is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes these concerns into account,” he said. “The talks were serious and constructive, and they are ongoing.”

The peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been frozen since 2014 and settlements are one of the hottest topics. The Palestinians want the West Bank and East Jerusalem for their own state, along with the Gaza Strip.

Most countries consider Israeli settlements, built on land captured in the 1967 Middle East war, to be illegal. Israel disagrees, citing historical and political ties to the land, as well as security interests.

Trump has expressed some ambivalence about a two-state solution, the mainstay of American politics for the past two decades. But he recently invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to visit him.

Trump has not publicly detailed what kind of settlement he wants with Israel on settlements. But many supporters of a two-state solution have urged a formula restricting construction to the large settlement blocs that Israel is expected to maintain under any final peace deal.

In the talks, the officials discussed measures to improve the climate of peace, according to the joint reading. He said a key focus was on steps that “could have a significant impact on the economic environment in the West Bank and Gaza,” and specifically a desire to advance efforts toward “self-sustainability” in electricity and water.

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