But what about settlements deeper in the West Bank?
Palestinian leaders have said that they will not tolerate settlements that disrupt the territorial integrity of the West Bank portion of a future state, which would also include the Gaza Strip.
“The Israelis talk about peace, but on the land they act otherwise. We want peace, but the settlements are taking the land. This is an enormous problem,” said Yousef Abu Maria, a spokesman for the Popular Movement, a Palestinian group that is protesting Israeli occupation with its own encampments.
Aaron David Miller, a veteran of many past U.S. attempts to shepherd Middle East talks, said the landscape today is a lot different for the Palestinians than in 2008, and their footing worse. The dismal West Bank economy, the enduring split with the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip and the erosion of Palestinian support for talks put Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a very tight spot, Miller said.
“Let’s hope there is something new here,” he said. “If this is old wine in a new bottle, there’s going to be trouble.”
The United Nations and many governments consider Israeli settlements built in the West Bank illegal under international law because they are on occupied lands. The Israeli government disagrees.
Although the number of settlers has climbed steadily in the past five years, they remain controversial in Israel. In a Pew Research Center poll of Israeli Jews in May, 35 percent said continued Jewish settlement building “hurts security,” 31 percent said it “helps security,” and 27 percent said it “makes no difference.”
As he enters negotiations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must work within a coalition government that contains many pro-settler politicians.
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, the third most powerful member of Netanyahu’s coalition, was formerly the director general of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization of Jewish settlement councils.
“As negotiations get underway, we will insist on continuing construction in Jerusalem and the West Bank,” Bennett said at an event in the Shiloh settlement this month. “History has taught us that building produces life, while dismantling settlements produces terror.”
Indeed, unlike the last time that the Obama administration launched Middle East peace talks — a short-lived effort in 2010 — there is no settlement freeze this time around.
Kerry announced Monday that veteran diplomat Martin Indyk will run the talks for the United States. Indyk, who will take a leave from the Brookings Institution, maintains deep contacts in the region, particularly among Israeli officials.
In his 2009 memoir of the Clinton-era efforts to win a peace deal, “Innocent Abroad,” Indyk wrote that “future presidents need to insist that during final status negotiations all settlement activity be frozen, including in the settlement blocs, unless it is done in agreement with the Palestinians.”
President Obama marked the resumption of talks with a cautious statement Monday. “This is a promising step forward, though hard work and hard choices remain ahead,” he said.
That caution is matched in the region. Some settlement advocates say they have little to fear from the talks because the settlements have become such an integral part of Israel.
“I think in the last two or three years, we have passed a point of no return,” Dani Dayan, a leader of the Yesha Council, said in an interview at his home in Maale Shomron, a settlement founded with 40 families that now has 250.
“I don’t mean to say the Israeli military couldn’t handle forcibly evacuating settlements,” he said. “What I am saying is that from a psychological point of view, there is no going back. We are here to stay. Dismantling the settlements would break the back of Israel. There would be no Israel. There would be no Zionism. There would be no point.”
Gearan reported from Washington. Orly Halpern in Jerusalem contributed to this report.