The United States does not and will not accept Israel's continued West Bank settlement activity, a top U.S. official said on Monday, stating that the fact that Washington no longer supports a temporary settlement freeze did not mean it condones continued building.
The comment by State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley came as U.S. officials had confirmed that negotiations between Jerusalem and Washington over a new partial moratorium on settlement construction and on the terms of the guarantees proposed by U.S. President Barack Obama have hit a dead end.
A senior Washington official told Israeli correspondents during a conference call on Tuesday that after consulting with both the Israelis and the Palestinians Obama's administration reached the conclusion that conditions were not ripe now for successful negotiations, even with a new freeze.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Crowley reiterated that the fact that the United States no longer considered a settlement freeze as a sufficient condition for continued talks did not mean Washington changed its views toward Israel's settlement activity.
As the United States continues with its attempts to renew talks, Crowley said, U.S. "position on settlements has not and will not change."
"The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements, and we will continue to express that position," the State Department spokesman added.
Regarding continued effors toward renewing negotiations, Crowley indicated that "in the coming days and weeks, we will engage with both sides of the -- on the core substantive issues at stake in this conflict, and with the Arab states and other international partners on creating a firm basis to work toward our shared goal of a framework agreement on all permanent- status issues, a goal in which we and the parties remain committed."
"We indicated that we will be having meetings and contacts with both the Israelis and the Palestinians in the coming days," the State Department official said, adding that U.S. Special Mideast envoy George "Mitchell will travel back to the region next week to consult both with the parties and also with other regional leaders."
Speaking with Israel Radio earlier Wednesday, Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser claimed that the Israel side was not the one keeping talks from restarting, adding that "the Palestinians must understand that you can't set preconditions to negotiations."
According to Hauser, the current course peace talks have taken has exhausted itself, with sides looking for alternatives that could produce a peace deal.
Also on Wednesday, an aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ron Dremer, told Army Radio that the United States was initiating a new diplomatic path which could lead to the renewal of peace negotiations, adding that the PM had not given up on his intent to reach an agreement.
Regarding Israel's settlement policy, Dremer told Israel Radio that the Israeli government had continued to the path of settlement construction, as did previous governments.
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