Netanyahu urges settler restraint as freeze ends

PM Benjamin Netanyahu urged Israeli settlers to act with restraint after a limited construction freeze expires, a plea that appeared aimed at keeping Middle East peace talks alive.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Sun 26 Sep 2010, 9:41 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 8:39 AM

As settler leaders and members of Netanyahu’s Likud party gathered at a rally to celebrate the end of the partial freeze, a Palestinian official said there had been no breakthrough in US efforts to save the negotiations.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to quit the talks, launched in Washington on Sept. 2, if building resumed in settlements in the occupied West Bank where Netanyahu froze housing starts in November.

Netanyahu, whose governing coalition is dominated by pro-settler parties, has resisted pressure from US President Barack Obama to extend the 10-month moratorium, which ends at midnight (2200 GMT).

But the Israeli leader has held out the prospect of limiting the scope of renewed construction, a message he seemed to underscore in an official statement.

‘The prime minister calls on the residents in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and the political parties to show restraint and responsibility today and in the future exactly as they showed restraint and responsibility throughout the months of the freeze,’ it said.

At the West Bank settlement of Revava, leaders of the settler movement and Likud supporters came together to release 2,000 balloons — signifying the number of new homes that settler groups said they intend to start building next week.

‘These are homes that have already received final permits,’ said an aide to Danny Danon, a Likud legislator who helped to organise the rally.

DIPLOMACY

The United States held extensive discussions with Israeli and Palestinian officials over the weekend to try to resolve the crisis.

‘The American efforts are continuing. So far, there is no breakthrough,’ Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Abbas, told Reuters by telephone from Paris, where the Palestinian leader was to meet on Monday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said there was more than an even chance the peace process would continue.

‘I think that the chance of achieving a mutually agreed understanding about (a) moratorium is 50-50,’ Barak said in a BBC interview in New York, where he met US officials. ‘I think that the chances of having a peace process is much higher.’

Abbas, whom Netanyahu has publicly urged to remain in the negotiations, also appeared to indicate the talks would not be suspended immediately upon the moratorium’s expiration.

Asked in an interview with the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat, whether he would declare an end to the negotiations if the freeze did not continue, Abbas said: ‘No, we will go back to the Palestinian institutions, to the Arab follow-up committee.’

He was referring in the interview, conducted on Friday and published on Sunday, to an Arab League forum that gave him the go-ahead to pursue direct peace talks with Israel.

Abu Rdainah said Abbas had requested a meeting of the follow-up committee in Cairo and it would likely convene ‘within days’.

More than 430,000 Jews live in well over 100 settlements established across the West Bank and East Jerusalem on land that Israel captured from Jordan in a 1967 Middle East war.

The World Court deems settlements illegal, although Israel disputes this.

Palestinians say they will make it impossible for them to create a viable state and the issue is one of the core problems standing in the way of any peace deal.



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