Progress made in Israeli-US talks on settlements, says official

June 17th, 2009 - 6:56 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Jerusalem, June 17 (DPA) Israel Wednesday claimed that it has made “progress” in talks with the US aimed at resolving their disagreement over the ongoing construction in West Bank settlements.
“There is still the issue of settlements, what we call construction for the purpose of allowing a normal life for the settlers, but here too there has been a certain progress in the last few days,” said Israeli Ambassador-designate to the US Michael Oren.

Israel, he said, was waiting for its next meeting with President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, but expected a solution in the near future.

“Both sides have expressed their will to put an end to this issue and there are new ideas,” the ambassador-designate told Israel Radio, adding “I prefer not to get into details.”

He urged the Palestinians to give up on their demand for an absolute Israeli settlement freeze, as a pre-condition for resuming peace negotiations.

“For the first time they are the ones posing conditions … They will have to give up this pre-condition, which is really new,” he said, arguing the same demand had not been made to previous Israeli governments, including those of former premiers Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak.

The Palestinians fear that continued settlement construction would further fragment their territory ahead of any agreement, especially if Netanyahu is not serious about completing negotiations within a specific time frame and wants to start the talks from scratch, ignoring the progress which has already been made.

Oren reiterated that the Netanyahu government opposed East Jerusalem becoming the capital of the Palestinian state - a core Palestinian demand - as well as a full Israel withdrawal to the borders of before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan and Gaza Strip from Egypt in the Six-Day War.

Previous Israeli governments have also demanded that Israel be allowed to keep its main settlement blocks near the armistice line separating the West Bank from Israel.

The previous Olmert government offered a territorial exchange as compensation.

“Our position is clear that Jerusalem will remain the undivided capital of Israel,” said Oren, but nonetheless added, “the issue will be discussed in the late stages of the talks”.

“We will not return to the 1967 borders and I think there is broad national consensus here. Also on the American side there is understanding that the 1967 borders are indefensible and that is one of the reasons the war broke out.”

Obama Monday reiterated his demand for a “cessation of settlements”. The US president was reacting to the Israeli premier’s policy speech Sunday night in which Netanyahu for the first time publicly supported a - demilitarised - Palestinian state.

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