Peace in the Middle East

Well, not exactly, but if you want to set down that cynicism for a moment, this could be the beginning of something perhaps sort of resembling a peace…

Israel would be open to a complete freeze of settlement building in the West Bank for three to six months as part of a broad Middle East peace endeavor that included a Palestinian agreement to negotiate an end to the conflict and confidence-building steps by major Arab nations, senior Israeli officials said Sunday.

The officials spoke before a planned meeting in Washington on Tuesday between Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, and George J. Mitchell, the Obama administration’s Middle East envoy, and said this was the message Mr. Barak would take with him.

The freeze would not affect construction that was already under way, nor include East Jerusalem. But it would mean that during the specified time no construction of any kind could start even in the close-in settlement blocks that Israel expects to keep in any future two-state agreement with the Palestinians.

While such an offer falls short of President Obama’s demand that Israel halt all settlement building now, it is the most forthcoming response that senior Israeli officials have given to date and suggests that American pressure is having some effect. Until now, Israeli officials have insisted that settlements cannot be asked to end “natural growth” or “normal life,” meaning building for the children of those living there.

The officials who spoke of the prospect of a temporary freeze said the issue was explosive in Israel, so they were not prepared to have their names publicly associated with the idea at this stage. But they spoke with clear authority. They calculated that about 2,000 buildings were going up in West Bank settlements now and said that they would be completed under their proposal, but nothing new would start. They also said that if broader peace efforts came to naught, the building would start up again.

Update.

Read Max Socol’s take on this for some actual depth.

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