On Wednesday, US State Department's spokesman Philip J. Crowley stated that, although the US no longer considered an Israeli freeze on settlements freeze as a necessary condition for continued talks, it did not mean Washington had changed its views. He said:
U.S. position on settlements has not and will not change. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements, and we will continue to express that position.
In the coming days and weeks, we will engage with both sides of the -- on the core substantive issues at stake in this conflict, and with the Arab states and other international partners on creating a firm basis to work toward our shared goal of a framework agreement on all permanent- status issues, a goal in which we and the parties remain committed.
We're shifting our approach, but we're still focused on the goal of a framework agreement within a year, and we believe that's still achievable.
In Washington, Israeli negotiator Isaac Molho held meetings with the Americans, and the Prime Minister's spokesmen confirmed the new US initiative, without any details, to Army Radio. On Thursday, in a visit to Bulgaria, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman reiterated his belief in direct talks with the Palestinians without preconditions.
In contrast, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas warned that there would be no talks with Israel unless there was a halt to settlement building.
Having obtained the support of the Arab League and Egypt, Abbas does not want to take a step back on the settlements. Indeed, he may be going on the offensive. The London-based daily Asharq al-Awsat reported on Thursday that Abbas had "given a green light" to his aides to ask the UN to recognize a unilaterally-declared Palestinian state; however, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit asked the Palestinian leadership to give Washington another chance.
On Thursday, the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and another leader of the Authority, Salam Fayyad, left for Washington. Fayyad will also be present at US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's speech at the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy on Friday.
The Americans will then attempt to follow up when Obama envoy George Mitchell arrives in Ramallah next Monday.