Against the background of past failures, rhetoric from radicals, the Jerusalem City Council debating the building of 1362 houses in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and the settlement freeze deadline of September 26th – we've had the second round of talks.
Lets talk about what we know at this hour as things develop.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with each leader separately, and with the host of the talks, Mr. Hosni Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheik in Egypt, urging the parties to press on. Before her meeting she gave a very blunt message to Israel's Prime Minster Bib Netanyahu – Extend the settlement freeze. After her round of discussions she has stuck an optimistic tone saying once again that the time is ripe for peace.
Perhaps Mr. Netanyahu was able to find a formula to accept that will keep his momentum towards peace going – many here in Jerusalem are holding there breath to find out. But at this hour we do not know if any deal of some sort has been reached on the building freeze. The Palestinians have said they'll walk away if the West Bank building freeze is lifted.
Special Envoy George Mitchell was also there, describing the talks as “serious discussions on core issues”. That could be deciphered as another positive sign that the freeze isn't getting in the way of progress around the table – or at worst, it's just not being talked about. He also mentioned that all sides had expressed their commitment to the negotiations – another positive statement although expected.
Mrs. Clinton did appear to imply that the Palestinian side can help Mr. Netanyahu overcome his freeze dilemma. One thing is for sure – America has invested the heaviest it ever has in this process and failure is not an option to the Administration.
If such a gesture was made by the Palestinians it may for a short time allow Mr. Netanyahu to ride victorious back to Jerusalem, but it would certainly put the pressure on Israel's negotiation team for the next hurdle to clear in the discussion of the core issues such as borders, refuges, water, and Jerusalem. The Palestinians will claim they compromised and it will be Israel's turn.
The sidewinder in Israel's politics today was the announcement by Jerusalem's city planners, during the meetings in Sharm el-Sheik, where they announced their intention to discuss building more homes in an area the International community identifies as not officially included in the State of Israel.
But the fact remains, America is seeking a way to help the parties move forward without loosing face. The fact also is, that if the teams establish a border they know who has authority where, and more importantly, which settlements are under Israeli control and which will be under Palestinian.
Join me tomorrow when I give you the latest with a live update on the Harvest Show.
See you then!
Middle East Correspondent