Israel stands firm on West Bank settlements

JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israel will not bow to pressure from Washington to halt settlement activity in the West Bank even for a temporary period, a minister from the governing Likud party said on Sunday.

“The prime minister made it clear in our meeting that there are no understandings and no commitments on the issue of a freeze of construction in the West Bank, not even a temporary one,” Yuli Edelstein told AFP.

“We must not reach such a situation,” the minister for information and diaspora affairs from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party added ahead of a weekly cabinet meeting.

The remarks came a day before a meeting in London between Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak and US Middle East envoy George Mitchell amid friction over the settlement issue between the two close allies.

The White House has repeatedly demanded that Israel halt all settlement activity in the occupied West Bank in order to relaunch peace talks with the Palestinians, who have refused to meet Netanyahu without a complete freeze.

Netanyahu has said his government will not allow new settlements to be built but that the “natural growth” of existing settlements will continue.

The roadmap agreement, adopted by world powers in 2003 and to which Israel is a signatory, requires a complete freeze of all settlement activity, including natural growth, and the dismantling of all settlements built after March 2001.

Barak said he and Mitchell would explore “how to translate the roadmap, which Israel has adopted with some reservations and understandings, into a common way that is agreed upon by us, the United States and other sides.”

The presence of 470,000 Jewish settlers in more than 120 settlements scattered across the West Bank, 190,000 of them in annexed Arab east Jerusalem, has long been seen as a major obstacle to the peace process and the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

The international community views all settlements in lands occupied during the 1967 Six Day war as illegal and the Middle East Quartet — made up of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States — has called for a complete freeze.

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