Less than two weeks after President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed optimism that U.S.-sponsored peace talks between Israel and Palestine would be successful, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has complicated the process by announcing he will not extend the freeze on Israeli settlement construction in Palestinian territories. The freeze is scheduled to conclude at the end of the month. The settlements have been the central issue in peace talks, as they provoke conflict in those areas and will make it far more difficult for Palestinians to reclaim the land. Israeli and Palestinian officials are scheduled to meet again before the freeze ends. How big of a problem is this for the peace process?

  • Freeze Deadline Poses Greatest Challenge  Voice of America's Elizabeth Arrott says Netanyahu's announcement "sets the tone for the second round of renewed Mideast peace talks. The talks get underway Tuesday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Much of the pessimism surrounding the relaunched direct talks between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can be traced to the deadline later this month for the settlement freeze to expire. Palestinian negotiators made clear new construction in the Israeli-occupied West Bank would be a deal-breaker.  But even in the first meetings earlier this month in Washington, the idea of some sort of compromise was being floated."

  • Israel Is Testing Obama  The Guardian's Rachel Shabi writes, "Netanyahu's position, which one Israeli newspaper described as 'the freeze will end, sort of,' is being read by some analysts as a means of testing US reaction to policy over the settlement issue. Palestinian sources suggest that this issue will be high on the agenda for discussion at the Sharm al-Sheikh talks."
  • Obama Calls for Freeze Extension  Politico's Ben Smith writes, "President Obama made clear at his press conference today that he'd like Israel to extend its formal moratorium on settlements. ... Israeli officials had hoped that Obama would persuade the Palestinians to be satisfied with an informal slowdown to construction in key places, but today's press conference makes that significantly harder."
  • This Is a Distraction, Palestinians Are Real Problem  National Review's Charles Krauthammer writes, "What’s standing in the way [of peace]? Israeli settlements? ... What about the religious settlers? Might they not resist? Some tried that during the Gaza withdrawal, clinging to synagogue rooftops. What happened? Jewish soldiers pulled them down and took them away. If Israel is offered real peace, the soldiers will do that again. The obstacle today, as always, is Palestinian refusal to accept a Jewish state. ... There’s no more sign today of a Palestinian desire for final peace than there was at Camp David. Even if Mahmoud Abbas wants such an agreement (doubtful but possible), he simply doesn’t have the authority."
  • Worsening Palestinian Welfare in Settlements  Al Jazeera's Teymoor Nabill flags a new report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. The report addresses what it calls "The Israeli Authorities' Failure to Protect Human Rights amid Settlements in East Jerusalem," finding an "all-time low" for "human rights." Nabill summarizes, "The short version: Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, especially the Old City, are increasingly subject to hostility and violence because authorities are joining political extremists in attempts to 'Judaize' Palestinian areas."