Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu, AP
Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Photo by AP
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The United States is concerned that the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians could collapse in the coming days over the dead end in the talks on the settlement building freeze. America's ambassador to Israel, James Cunningham, on Monday told European Union envoys in a briefing that the Obama administration's worry stems from the fact that both sides are holding steadfast to their positions.

European diplomats say Cunningham stressed during the briefing there is still no solution to the deadlock. The U.S. ambassador added that the Obama administration was pressuring both Israel and the Palestinians to reach an agreement on the issue.

Cunningham also reportedly said there are a number of ideas for a resolution that the U.S. has not put forth as a mediating solution.

"We will offer a bridging proposal only if the two sides ask for it, and that has still not happened," the U.S. ambassador told his European colleagues. "We are very concerned that there is not much time left for finding a solution."

Cunningham said that because of the lack of clarity as to the deadline of the settlement construction hiatus, American legal experts examined the matter with Israel and concluded the freeze ends at midnight September 25.

Several European diplomats said the American ambassador stressed that without a resolution on this issue, there will be no way to progress in the negotiations.

The American ambassador expressed the U.S. administration's genuine concern "the negotiations will not survive the weekend," said a European diplomat present at the briefing.

Another European diplomat, however, said after the briefing that the American ambassador was not particularly pessimistic, but "merely described the situation as it is." Efforts continued yesterday in Washington and New York to sidestep a crisis in the talks. President Shimon Peres met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in New York and asked him not to leave the talks because of an end to the halt in construction.

"You cannot demand from Netanyahu things he cannot do for political reasons," Peres told Abbas. "It is possible to find a creative way of preventing the expansion of construction. The negotiations are more important than this or that home, and this should not bring the talks down."

'Issues more important than freeze'

Defense Minister Ehud Barak met on Monday with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington and with U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones. Barak stressed that "the decisions that Israel and the Palestinians are facing are much more important, dramatic and historic than the issue of continued construction."

The heads of the negotiating teams of Israel and the Palestinians, Yitzhak Molcho and Saeb Erekat, are due to meet today in Washington. The U.S. envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, will also participate in the meeting.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed hundreds of American Jewish leaders yesterday via telephone conference, saying he does not expect the Palestinians will leave the talks because of the settlement freeze.

"We got rid of the preconditions before the talks. We can't reintroduce them five minutes after the talks begin. We have to sustain a negotiation," he said.

Netanyahu said that in any agreement there will have to be an Israeli Defense Force presence in the West Bank in view of the possibility that an eastern front could reopen because of "an internal change in Palestinian politics."

"I have made clear that to defend the peace we need a long-term Israeli presence on the eastern side of a Palestinian state - that is, in the Jordan Valley. I have also said that while I respect the Palestinians desire for sovereignty, I am convinced that we can reconcile that desire with our need for security."