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Israel Resumption of Building Settlements Could Derail Peace Talks

November 8, 2010 at 6:05 PM EDT
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Israel's Interior Ministry announced plans to build 1,300 apartments in East Jerusalem. The news came during a visit to the U.S. by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and in the midst of the Obama administration's efforts to revive Israel-Palestinian peace talks. Margaret Warner reports.
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RAY SUAREZ: Next: the latest blow to faltering peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Margaret Warner has that story.

MARGARET WARNER: The announcement came from Israel’s Interior Ministry. It’s going ahead with plans to build nearly 1,300 new apartments in disputed East Jerusalem.

The move came at an awkward moment in Obama administration efforts to revive stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a visit to the U.S. Netanyahu met with Vice President Biden last night in New Orleans, where both were speaking to a gathering of North American Jewish leaders.

Biden, in his speech, reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security.

U.S. VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: Ties between our countries are literally, literally unbreakable.

MARGARET WARNER: But, today, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley deplored Israel’s move.

P.J. CROWLEY, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs: It is counterproductive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.

MARGARET WARNER: Reactions from the Palestinians, who claim East Jerusalem as their future capital, was swift.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath:

NABIL SHAATH, chief negotiator, Palestinian Authority: This is just one more sign that the Israelis do not want the peace process. This Israeli government is dedicated to destroying the peace process.

MARGARET WARNER: It’s a far cry from the mood just two months ago, when the administration relaunched direct negotiations between Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. They held two other sessions in the region, but talks ground to a halt when a partial Israeli freeze on new settlements expired on September 26.

Abbas refuses to return to the table until the freeze is reinstated. And he’s vowing to go to the United Nations to seek recognition of an independent Palestinian state if talks don’t resume. Despite entreaties from the Obama administration and offers of enhanced security assistance, Netanyahu so far has not budged.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu is pressing the Obama administration on Iran, reportedly telling Biden last night that the only way to deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons was a credible military threat.

Secretary of Defense Gates pushed back today in Australia. “I disagree that only a credible military threat can get Iran to take the actions that it needs to,” he said. “We continue to believe that the political, economic approach that we are taking is in fact having an impact in Iran.”

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Clinton Thursday in New York.