Israel never said no to new freeze: Netanyahu

Without a new freeze, the Palestinians have refused to negotiate.

Jerusalem: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu on Monday said talks to secure a new settlement freeze
ground to a halt when the United States stopped pressing for
the ban, not because Israel rejected it.

Israeli radio and news sites quoted him as telling
parliament`s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee that
Washington initially asked Israel to extend a 10-month
building freeze which expired in September.

"The truth is that we were prepared to do this but
contrary to what was reported Israel did not refuse to extend
the freeze," Maariv daily`s "nrg" website quoted Netanyahu as
telling lawmakers.

"In the end the US decided not to take that path, rightly
in my opinion," he added.

Haaretz daily`s website quoted Netanyahu as saying that
he told US President Barack Obama he would ask his cabinet to
approve a three-month extension.

"I told Obama that I am prepared to go with this to the
cabinet and that I will be able to enforce the move, but then
I received the surprising phone call from the Americans who
said they no longer demand that Israel extends the freeze,"
the paper quoted him as telling the committee today.

Netanyahu said in November that he would put the US
request to a cabinet vote if incentives from Washington were
put in writing, among them finance for advanced warplanes and
a promise to veto any UN Security Council resolution against
Israel`s interests.

That letter apparently never came.

US officials admitted last month that efforts to coax
Israel into imposing new curbs on West Bank settlement
construction had gone nowhere.

Netanyahu today said that senior Obama aide Dennis Ross
would be in Israel this week for discussions. Netanyahu also
confirmed that he himself would visit Egypt for talks with
President Hosni Mubarak.

"This week the envoy Dennis Ross and other American
envoys will arrive. On Thursday I shall go to Egypt," he told
senior members of his Likud party in remarks broadcast on
public radio. "We have a single aim, to strengthen security
and to move toward achieving peace."

Mubarak has publicly blamed Israel for the collapse of
peace talks, and has urged the international community,
especially the US, to move the process forward.

Without a new freeze, the Palestinians have refused to
negotiate, effectively deadlocking direct peace talks that
began on September 2, only to run aground three weeks later
when building resumed in the settlements.


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