Israel rejects US call for settlement freeze
A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said "natural growth" would continue in existing settlements after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for a complete halt.
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Israeli officials have quickly rejected the Obama administration's firm call Wednesday for a halt to Israeli settlements without exceptions. It is a new setback to President Obama's efforts to reignite peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians and comes as the president meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday.
Obama's hard line on settlements, likely a bid to garner support among moderate Arab nations who would likely be willing to make concessions if Israel enacted a settlement freeze, is being met with expected enthusiasm from Palestinian officials. Israel had agreed to halt settlements under the Bush administration's 2003 road map plan.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Rodham Hillary Clinton indicated there was no wiggle room in Obama's position, reports the BBC: "Not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions. We think it is in the best interest of the effort that we are engaged in that settlement expansion cease."
Palestinian officials have said they will not resume peace talks with Israel unless it removes all roadblocks and freezes settlement construction. Some 500,000 Israelis live in more than 100 settlements within the West Bank.
But Israel quickly rebuffed Ms. Clinton's remarks, reports The Guardian.
Deepening differences are emerging between Israel's new government, led by the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and the US administration, which has adopted a tougher position over Israel's actions towards the Palestinians than in the past.
Israel has said it will not build new settlements and is committed to removing settlement outposts that are not authorised by the government. However, Mark Regev, a spokesman for Netanyahu, said today that "normal life" would be allowed to continue inside existing settlements, which included new construction such as enlarging homes and building schools to accommodate growing families.
Clinton also said that the US will offer both sides "very specific proposals" in an effort to bring them to the table, reports the Daily Telegraph. Palestinian officials have for the most part welcomed the new American diplomatic overtures. Mr. Netanyahu has also expressed his willingness to start talks with the Palestinians again, but has not endorsed a two-state solution.
"I hope the United States will also establish a mechanism to obligate the Israeli government to respect its engagements under roadmap, namely a complete halt to settlement activity," Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said.