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Settlements in West Bank Are Clouding Peace Talks

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WASHINGTON — Israeli and Palestinian negotiators cleared the first hurdle on Thursday in their elusive quest for Middle East peace: they agreed to keep talking, two weeks from now in Egypt.

But on a richly choreographed day of diplomacy, filled with solemn promises to tackle the tough issues dividing them, the Israeli and Palestinian leaders did not confront the one issue that could sink these talks in three weeks: whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will extend a moratorium on the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has threatened to walk out of the negotiations if Israel does not extend the moratorium beyond September. But officials said the two leaders barely broached the topic during three hours of talks, which covered the gamut of issues that have divided Israel and the Palestinians for decades.

Instead, Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Abbas focused on mechanics, agreeing to aim for a “framework agreement” that resolves the core issues in carving out a Palestinian state from the Israeli-occupied territory on the West Bank. The fine points of a treaty would be worked out after that.

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