December 10, 2010 - 1:00am

Israeli officials close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are expressing satisfaction over the fact that the issue of a building freeze in the West Bank is off the agenda between Israel and the United States.

"The Americans understood that it's not the right way," one official said, a source close to the government told Xinhua on Thursday.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak will fly to Washington soon to meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in order to discuss ways of getting the peace process moving again, according to the source.

U.S. officials said that Palestinian interlocutors would also be traveling to the U.S. capital.

"We expect to have discussions with senior representatives on both sides, we are still working to set those up," U.S. State Department Spokesman Phillip J. Crowley said on Wednesday.

The Israeli-Palestinian direct negotiations came to a halt in September with the end of Israel's 10-month moratorium on Jewish settlements construction in the West Bank. The Palestinians have insisted on the moratorium on all occupied lands as a precondition for return to the direct talks with Israel.

The United States had offered Israel a package of military aid in exchange for the latter's three-month extension of settlement construction freeze, a deal declared failed by the White House this week.

"The suggestion was absurd," one minister said of the contacts between Israel and Washington over renewing the freeze. "Did the Americans really think that it would be possible to convince the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state within three months? That it's possible to resolve the issues of borders within three months?" the minister asked.

Netanyahu has said that if the Palestinians agree to recognize Israel as the Jewish nation's state, he could consider extending the settlement construction freeze. The offer was rejected by the Palestinian side, arguing that the recognition will harm the rights of the refugees and the rights of the Arabs who live in Israel.

However, Crowley told reporters on Wednesday that the U.S. position on settlements is unchanged, saying "the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements, and we will continue to express that position."

Israeli officials estimate that indirect talks will begin again soon, in other words, contacts between Israel and the Palestinians with the Americans serving as a go-between in order to try to get both sides back to the negotiating table.

"Senator (George) Mitchell will go back to the region next week to consult with both parties and also with other regional leaders, " Crowley said, adding that "I would describe this as a change in tactics, not a change in strategy."

Ron Dermer, Netanyahu's diplomatic adviser said that "our coordination with the Americans is the best it's been since the formation of the government. They tried for a year and a half to go down a certain path, a path of freezing settlement activity."

Dermer did not rule out the possibility that despite the canceled incentives deal previously offered to Israel in return for the three months moratorium extension, that Israel will, in the end, receive the 20 F-35 stealth fighter jets.

The prime minister's office is cautiously monitoring an announcement by three South American countries that they are ready to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 cease-fire lines. However, officials say that as long as the Americans oppose the idea, there's no chance of such a vote passing in the UN.

Israeli officials also noted that, within a framework to restart the talks with the Palestinians, the premier will try to revitalize the "economic peace" initiative in several channels, in order to advance the process "from the bottom up," in their words, according to the source.


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