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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Mr. Abbas, who will meet with Obama on Thursday, is expected to focus during much of the meeting on reiterating the need for a settlement freeze. The Palestinian president will likely call for a settlement freeze along the lines of the one outlined in the US backed 2003 road map peace plan, reports the Ma'an News Agency, a Palestinian news wire.Skip to next paragraph
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Israeli officials have called a complete settlement freeze "out of order," reports Israel's Haaretz. Citing the need for natural growth construction, they also said according to the road map plan Israel would limit settlement growth if Palestinian authorities worked to combat terrorism, which they say has not happened.
In an analytical piece in the conservative Jerusalem Post, Herb Keinon writes that from the Israeli perspective it is difficult to tell how tough the Obama administration will be on settlements. After meeting with Netanyahu, he writes that Obama spoke only in general terms, and this new hard-line stance calling for a freeze of settlements came from Clinton, not the president directly.
Israel's position, or its hope, is that this issue can be finessed, just as it was finessed under the previous government. Or, as Netanyahu told a visiting Congressional delegation on Wednesday, there is a need to find a way with the US administration to enable "normal life" in the settlements to continue. If Obama says no settlements, but doesn't mention natural growth, leaving Clinton to do that, does that mean there is wiggle room? Nobody knows yet.
Israeli officials have already begun working to show their willingness to make some concessions on the settlement issue, reports the Los Angeles Times. Last week, Israelis removed three outposts – small, less developed settlements deep in the West Bank – and officials say they will remove a total of 26 "in an effort to vent pressure from Washington on natural growth in the bigger areas."
While Obama's stance has irked many Israeli supporters, some in the American Jewish community have welcomed it. There has been at least one campaign among the Jewish community to demonstrate support for the president's policy toward Israeli settlements. The JewSchool blog wrote that news of the policy was "music to my ears."
So though I've said it elsewhere, I'm going to reiterate it here: I've got Obama's back. The (however modest) dedicated political pressure of American Jewish doves will give the President the room to use all methods at his disposal, including various pressures on Israel. In a better world, [Netanyahu] would not be leading a right-wing coalition dedicated to Greater Israel and punishing Palestinians, and such concerted support would not be needed.