Israeli PM proposes limited settlement ‘suspension’ 25Nov09 November 26, 2009

BBC News -  25 November 2009


Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is to ask his security cabinet to approve a 10-month lull in settlement building in the West Bank, but not East Jerusalem.

Mr Netanyahu’s office said he would seek a “temporary suspension of construction permits for housing”.

The Palestinians said the exclusion of Jerusalem in the suspension was a “very, very serious problem”.

They have refused to enter peace talks unless Israel halts all building in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Before the cabinet meeting, Mr Netanyahu said the move was “not a simple step, nor easy, but it holds more advantages than disadvantages”.

He re-iterated calls for the Palestinians to return to negotiations saying Israel was “very serious” in its intentions to promote peace.

The statement from Mr Netanyahu’s office referred, however, only to new residential building, not to the construction of municipal facilities or infrastructure.

His government has previously said it did not want to halt projects that were already under way.

The row over settlements has dogged US President Barack Obama’s attempts to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians for months.

Settlement building in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

Israel previously pledged to freeze all settlement activity under the 2003 Middle East peace plan known as the roadmap.

The administration of George W Bush however did not pressure it to curtail building in settlement blocs it was widely expected to keep in an eventual deal.

Mr Obama’s administration began by pressing for a total freeze, but softened its language in the face of refusals from Mr Netanyahu and his right-leaning government.

The BBC’s Katya Adler in Jerusalem says many will see Wednesday’s announcement as a cynical move to appease the US.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said “the exclusion of Jerusalem is a very, very serious problem for us”.

“Settlements in Jerusalem remain a major issue for us. Since it is only a moratorium we are speaking about, why is it so difficult for the Israelis to see the benefit of nothing more than compliance with international law or to stop violating international law?”

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