The United States has decided to abandon an effort to persuade Israel to issue a new temporary West Bank settlement moratorium in order to get a resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
"After consulting with the parties, we have determined that a moratorium extension will not at this time provide the best basis for resuming negotiations," a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity Tuesday.
"We are still going to continue our engagement with both sides on the core issues and we continue to work towards the goal of a framework agreement," the official said.
"We hope obviously to get the parties to direct talks but in the meantime we will continue our engagement with both sides," the official said, declining to use the word "proximity" talks. "We are not changing course. We are still very much committed" to get a framework agreement.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to make a statement on the Middle East peace process Wednesday. She will also speak Friday to the Saban forum that will also be addressed by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
There will be "no dramatic change" in the policy that Clinton announces, a second U.S. official said Tuesday on condition of anonymity.
"The tug of war inside the administration is whether to make [Clinton's] pitch strong and determined but without saying anything of substance, or whether she needs to say something about U.S. views to bring the Palestinians back to the table following the settlements business," a senior American Middle East hand said Tuesday. "You can imagine who is on which side of this debate."
"What seems to be lost thus far in the debate is how her remarks will impact her own credibility: she's the one who originally called for a total freeze and then had to call the partial freeze 'unprecedented;' and she's the one who spent seven plus hours with Netanyahu trying to hammer out a deal that ultimately failed. If she doesn't say something substantive -- however determined are the words -- will she continue to be taken seriously," the senior American Middle East hand continued.
Clinton's statement and speech to the Saban center Friday is likely to include a "broader evaluation of where we are in the process," former U.S. diplomat Aaron Miller suggested. "We will probably get a statement that is long on American commitment and determination and explains what the next steps really are [which should be] enough to keep everybody on the reservation."
Regarding the U.S. quitting the effort to get a new temporary Israeli freeze in exchange for a package of inducements, a second Washington Middle East watcher said the Obama administration is trying to "delink negotiations from a settlement freeze."
"Their argument is that the intention was never to make a freeze a precondition for talks - a freeze was supposed to build confidence and energize talks, that's all," the Washington Middle East watcher said. "Less clear is what they envision going forward."