Israel considers alternatives to direct peace talks

A FINAL peace deal with the Palestinians cannot be reached at present, Israeli officials say.

They are weighing alternatives, amid popular protests shaking up the Mid-east, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under fierce international pressure to prove he is serious about getting peacemaking moving again.

The US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s West Bank settlement construction last month.

Israeli officials are meeting international mediators, including US envoy Dennis Ross and representatives of the Quartet of Mid-east peacemakers — the US, European Union, United Nations and Russia — due to arrive in the region next week.

Government officials say Netanyahu is expected to deliver a major policy speech on peacemaking in the coming weeks, hinting at a change in direction away from direct talks on a peace treaty.

Privately, officials say Netanyahu is considering a phased approach to peacemaking.

“The consistent refusal of the Palestinian leadership to negotiate with Israel has made a negotiated agreement all but impossible to achieve, at least for the time being,” one government official said.

“And so we’re looking at an Israeli initiative, and steps that we can take that would be a phased approach to a final status agreement.”

Officials did not offer details of the alternatives Netanyahu is considering.

US-led peace talks, launched six months ago with the goal of striking a final deal by September 2011, broke down over Israeli construction in the West Bank and Arab east Jerusalem.

The Palestinians demanded a freeze in both areas. Israel refused to yield to that demand, insisting previous talks took place while settlement building was underway.

Given the impasse, the Palestinians have launched a campaign for international recognition of Palestinian statehood. Their plan is to seek the world’s recognition in the autumn, a move that may not give them a state on the ground but might isolate Israel.

Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reported that settlers began building up to 500 apartments and homes in the West Bank after a 10-month moratorium on settlement construction expired in late September.

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