US settlement freeze demand unreasonable, says Netanyahu

June 1st, 2009 - 9:34 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Jerusalem, June 1 (DPA) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Monday called US President Barack Obama’s demand for an absolute freeze on settlement construction in the occupied West Bank “unreasonable”.
Israel “will not freeze life in Judea and Samaria”, Netanyahu told a parliamentary committee in Jerusalem, using the Biblical names for the southern and northern West Bank.

Netanyahu told the foreign affairs and defence committee that his government would not build any new Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

But it would continue to build within existing ones to accommodate for natural growth (growing families). Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have asked Israel to stop the settlement activities.

Instead, Netanyahu said he would uproot unauthorised settlers’ outposts, dozens of which have been erected without formal government approval, often next to existing settlements, throughout the occupied territory.

“There are demands that are reasonable and there are demands that are not reasonable,” he said. “The fate of the settlements will be decided in a final (peace) agreement.”

Netanyahu’s statements appeared to place him on a collision course with the Obama administration, which also backs a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a principle the hardline Israeli premier has refused to openly endorse.

Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, of the centrist Kadima party and a staunch backer of the two-state solution, said she was “sad” to see the “deterioration” in “diplomatic collapse” and the “harm” done to Israel’s ties with the world since the Netanyahu government took office following Feb 10 elections.

Speaking before the parliamentary committee, she told Netanyahu that she believed US-Israeli relations were “stronger than the problematic policy of your government” and urged him to “come to your senses” before more damage was done.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, of the centre-left Labour Party, Netanyahu’s most dovish coalition partner, was due to arrive in Washington Monday in a bid to “soften” the US position regarding settlements.

Israeli newspapers, quoting government officials, reported Barak would present a compromise, under which Israel would avoid construction in new areas and would also uproot all unauthorised outposts.

In exchange, the US would consent to unfreezing construction in those settlement blocs which Israel wants to keep as part of a future peace deal with the Palestinians.

But the Ma’ariv daily said US administration officials were signalling they would not accept the proposal.

Senior members of Netanyahu’s hardline Likud party also warned the daily that if pressure mounted, his coalition would not survive.

A government spokesman was not immediately available for comment on the reports.

Israeli security forces meanwhile did uproot another unauthorised settlers’ outpost Monday near the settlement of Elon Moreh, east of Nablus on the northern West Bank. The outpost consisted of some three trailers, inhabited by some five settler youths.

Angry settlers responded by setting ablaze Palestinian olive trees and crops, prompting the Israeli military to call in firefighters.

Hundreds of Jewish settlers and right-wing Israeli activists also stoned Palestinian cars further south on the West Bank late Sunday, in response to a rumour that another outpost in the area would be removed. The protesters blocked a road and set tires on fire. Four Palestinians were reported injured, one of them seriously.

A senior settler leader, calling Netanyahu by his nickname, accused the premier of caving in to his more dovish coalition partner Barak and warned that “tens of thousands” of settlers would “bodily defend” any outpost slated for removal.

“I expect Bibi to come to his senses and lead a policy in line with the democratic majority which made its voice heard and stop letting Barak lead him by the nose,” Gershon Mesika, the head of the northern West Bank settlements’ regional council, told Israel Radio.

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