West inches towards confrontation over lack of progress on two states


There is concern in the Israeli government that the US, the UK, France and Germany are planning fresh diplomatic initiatives and punitive measures in response to continued settlement building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Among the plans being mulled is a joint European proposal for the United Nations to set a clear deadline for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

One of the concerns in Jerusalem is that these plans are designed to influence the outcome of the elections in Israel next March.

According to a report in Haaretz, Israeli officials were informed of a confidential meeting held at the White House last month in which senior members of the Obama administration discussed stepping up the condemnations of new settlement projects.

The US officials also reportedly discussed taking steps such as witholding the American veto on anti-Israel resolutions at the UN and setting out new guidelines on blocking funding for Israeli organisations operating in the settlements.

Meanwhile, British, German and French diplomats have been discussing a proposal under which the UN would set in progress new peace talks, with a two-year deadline for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Israel is worried that such a proposal would enable the Palestinians to sue Israel in international courts, even if the talks do not succeed.

Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry seemed to be intervening in the Israeli election campaign when he said that he hoped the next government could "negotiate and move towards resolving the differences between Israelis and Palestinians, and obviously, the differences in the region".

There is no consensus over the dire forecast of a diplomatic siege on Israel. While there has been no official response to the reports of punitive plans in Washington and Europe, some Israeli diplomats are of the view that, for now, Western governments will make do with symbolic steps - such as parliamentary votes calling for recognition of a Palestinian state - but not take more significant steps; at least not until after the elections in Israel.

The US administration has refused to comment on these discussions. On Sunday night, Mr Kerry said at the annual Brookings Institution's Saban Forum in Washington that US would not be involved in the elections and that it was "the choice of the Israeli people".

Mr Kerry's assurances were not sufficient for the Republican Party. Forty-eight Republican Congress members sent a letter over the weekend requesting clarification over the discussions reported in Haaretz.

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