At the end of a week of intense international diplomacy, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton gave a strong indication on Friday that there should be less focus on Israeli settlements in the West Bank and more attention on the "bigger picture" in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
"Resolving borders resolves settlements; resolving Jerusalem resolves settlements. So I think we need to lift our sights, and instead of looking down at the trees, we need to look at the forest," Clinton told reporters after meeting in Washington with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.
The comments from Clinton came after months of discussions on the settlements that have left the Israelis and Palestinians unable to bridge the gaps between them. But analysts did not think highly of her remarks.
"If you want to negotiate you have to deal with the settlement freeze because the Palestinians have made this a condition and they're not going to bend on this," said Gershon Baskin, the Israeli chief executive and founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.
Israel began a 10-month partial freeze of settlement construction in November under intense pressure from the United States. The moratorium on building which starts in the West Bank but not in East Jerusalem fell short of the Palestinian insistence that Israel halt all construction in the occupied territories before negotiations between the parties can resume.
Since November, opposition to the freeze has mounted from the political right in Israel, with a few clashes taking place between settlers and security personnel who were escorting government inspectors to settlements to enforce the construction ban.
Clinton has hoped that she and U.S. special envoy George Mitchell can persuade the parties to skip over that hurdle, which they feel is dogging the peace process and preventing any substantive progress.
However, in Baskin's opinion, it is a virtual impossibility to bring the sides together in order to reach a negotiated settlement. He believed that the Americans must lay down the parameters and that will help take care of the settlements issue.
Traditionally, it has been felt that the approach adopted this weekend by Clinton is the right one: deal with the borders and the rest of the puzzle will fall into place.
The Jordanian foreign minister agreed with Clinton that if the borders are finalized, other issues will take care of themselves.
"If you resolve the question of borders, then you automatically resolve not only settlements in Jerusalem, but you identify the nature on the ground of the two-state solution and how it looks like. And then all other things fit in place," said Judeh.
However, despite years of talks between Israelis and Palestinians, no arrangement has been reached concerning the borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state, and all the while, the settlements question looms ever larger.
Baskin proposed that U.S. President Barack Obama should set some clear limitations, which will give the parties an outline within which they can build out an agreement.
The Palestinians fear that Israel will grab as much land as possible in any final-status deal, as the Israeli government allegedly views the separation barrier it has constructed over the last decade as the best route for a final frontier.
Baskin argued that Obama must first make clear the widely-known 22-78 principle, which means that Israel owns 78 percent of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and the Palestinians establish their state on the remaining 22 percent. Such a clarification would allay Palestinian fears, said Baskin.
After such a principle is accepted by Israel and the Palestinians, even if it would mean land swaps and Israel holding some of the major settlement blocs, it would make the discussion of the removal of most of the settlements far easier to deal with, Baskin added.
However, Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Israel's Bar-Ilan University, dismissed the idea.
"The main issues are not borders or settlements, but what they were back in the late 1940s -- the recognition of the legitimacy of a Jewish national sovereignty like every other country," Steinberg said on Sunday, alluding to the issue of Palestinian refugees.
The Jewish state has virtually denied the right of return of the millions of Palestinians displaced during the Israeli-Arab war decades ago. Yet without a solution to the thorny problem, " borders are simply going to be minor aspects of an agreement that will not last," said Steinberg.
In his opinion, the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict boils down to one thing: identity. Current arguments about 22 percent and border arrangements, which have been under discussion since Israel gained control of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in 1967, are missing the point, he added.
The "forest-oriented" American position will be put into test this week when it is discussed by the Mideast Quartet of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia. The foursome is slated to meet in Brussels.