A top Palestinian official on Wednesday questioned Washington's ability to forge Middle East peace after a new breakdown in American attempts to revive negotiations.
The U.S. failure to persuade Israel to renew a limited freeze on construction in West Bank Jewish settlements, announced late Tuesday, was the latest setback for the Obama administration in its quest to broker a peace deal by next September. That goal, a top priority of the president, appears increasingly in doubt.
Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinians were assessing their options before responding to the American announcement. While accusing the Israelis of being intransigent, he also voiced disappointment with the Americans.
"We will assess if the U.S. would be able ... to achieve success in its upcoming efforts," Abed Rabbo told the Voice of Palestine radio station.
"The one who couldn't make Israel limit its settlement activities in order to conduct serious negotiations, how can he be able to make Israel accept a fair solution," he added. "This is the big question now."
Abbas is expected in Cairo on Thursday for consultations with Arab leaders. Among the Palestinians' options are finding a new formula for peace talks or taking unilateral action, such as rallying international recognition for a Palestinian state in the absence of a peace deal.
The Israelis and Palestinians launched the latest round of peace talks on Sept. 2 at a White House ceremony, where they committed themselves to reaching a deal within a year.
But weeks later, the talks broke down after an earlier, 10-month Israeli slowdown on settlement construction expired. The Palestinians say there is no point in negotiating if Israel continues to build homes for its citizens in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — captured territories that the Palestinians claim for a future independent state.
The Americans have been negotiating with Israel for weeks on the terms of a renewed settlement freeze in hopes of drawing the Palestinians back to the talks.
Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced after a trip to the U.S. that he was close to an agreement in which he would slow settlement construction for three months in exchange for a package of American security and diplomatic assurances.
However, the sides were unable to wrap up the deal, in part because of uncertainty what would happen after the three months.
The Americans had hoped the freeze would allow the sides to work out a deal on their future borders. Such an arrangement could make the settlement issue irrelevant, since Israel could resume construction in territories it expects to keep while halting building in areas given to the Palestinians.
In radio interviews Wednesday, a series of top aides to Netanyahu insisted the Palestinians were to blame by being inflexible on the settlement issue. They insisted that Netanyahu is committed to peace.
"He doesn't enter negotiations just to negotiate," said Ron Dermer, a top adviser to the prime minister. "But he has red lines."
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