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Opinion: Obama to blame for breakdown of Mideast talks?

President should have known that making settlement construction a key issue would lead to failure.

“Settlement in every part of the country continues and will continue,” Shamir told me with his characteristic nonchalant shrug. “They try to link the two things, but no one said aid will end. I don't think it will happen.”

And he was right. Bush finally relented, late in his 1992 re-election campaign, when the president saw he had so angered American Jews and their political allies that he might lose the election. And, of course, he did.

Soon after President Bill Clinton took office, in 1993, he cut the housing-loan guarantee by almost 25 percent — because Israel was once again refusing to halt new settlement construction. By then, 112,000 Israeli Jews lived in the West Bank. After the Oslo Peace Accords in 1993, Israel more or less stopped building new settlements for a short while, but aggressively expanded existing ones.

President George W. Bush, chastened by his father's loss to Clinton in 1992, chose not to make much of the settlement issue. The White House said settlements were “unhelpful,” and its so-called road map for peace called for a settlement freeze. But when Bush took office, 177,000 Israeli Jews lived in the West Bank. When he left, the number approached 300,000.

Now, because of settlements, the peace talks are moribund. Netanayahu still has time to change his mind before the Arab League meets on Friday and almost certainly ratifies the Palestinians’ decision to end the negotiations.

After that, I can’t see how the two sides can talk about peace again in the foreseeable future.