Israeli minister gives peace deal ’50-50′ chance

Israeli
Defence Minister Ehud Barak has told the BBC there is a “50-50” chance of
reaching a deal with Palestinians about Israel’s settlement moratorium as a
10-month partial ban winds down.

Palestinians
have said they could leave recently resumed peace talks if the construction
freeze is not extended.

West Bank
settlers are preparing to resume building if no deal is reached.

Mr. Barak was
returning home from the UN in New York, where he has been leading Israel’s
negotiating team.

Israel says
the settlements are no bar to talks, but US negotiators have been working
intensively to secure a deal.

Speaking
exclusively to the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall, Mr Barak
said he was heading back to Israel to try to convince members of the Israeli
government of the need for a compromise, but that he was not confident of
success.

However, he
was more upbeat on the prospects for the peace talks, which resumed in
September after a 20-month hiatus.

“I think the
chance of achieving a mutual agreed understanding about the moratorium is
50/50,” he told the BBC. “I think the chances of having a peace process is much
higher.”

“I hope it
will not be blocked by this moratorium issue and that we will sail full engines
forwards [to] substantial negotiations and agreement,” Mr. Barak told the BBC.
In a speech on Saturday to the United Nations General Assembly, Palestinian
leader Mahmoud Abbas said Israel must choose between peace and the continuation
of Jewish settlements.

Palestinians
were willing and ready to reach a comprehensive and just peace agreement with
Israel, Mr. Abbas told the assembly, declaring that their “wounded hands”
carried an olive branch to the Israelis.

But Mr. Abbas
stopped short of publicly threatening to withdraw from talks with Israel if the
moratorium on new West Bank construction is
not extended.

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