Israel `not planning new settlement freeze`

The 10-month Israeli measure to curb construction concludes at this month.

Updated: Sep 17, 2010, 19:54 PM IST

Jerusalem: Israel on Friday reiterated its refusal to extend curbs on settlement building which expire this month, despite US’ pressure and Palestinian threats to walk out of peace talks.

"The Prime Minister has not changed his position on this issue, there is no question of extending the moratorium," a senior government official said, asking not to be named.

The 10-month measure to curb construction of settler homes in the Israeli-occupied West Bank concludes at the end of this month.

The decision not to renew the partial moratorium, which does not cover annexed east Jerusalem, was taken this week by the Forum of Seven top cabinet ministers, according to the daily Israel Hayom, which is close to the government.

The decision was communicated to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was in the Middle East this week in a bid to push forward the peace process, the newspaper said.

The issue of settlements is among the thorniest in Middle East peace negotiations which Israel and the Palestinians restarted this month after a 20-month hiatus.

The two sides remain deeply divided on the renewal of settlement construction, a senior Palestinian official said after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Hillary met for two days of trilateral talks this week.

The official said the negotiations held in Egypt and Jerusalem had failed to resolve the row which threatens to derail the peace process.

Abbas told Netanyahu during the talks that he would walk out of the negotiations if Israel does not renew the moratorium, according to an aide.

In a bid to resolve the row, the Americans have suggested a three-month extension to the moratorium in which the two sides could agree on borders, which could bring a "final halt to settlement on the lands of the future Palestinian state”, a Palestinian official said.

The official added US negotiators wanted a complete halt to settlements while Israel was insisting on continuing to build in major settlement blocs it hopes to keep in any final peace accord.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, for his part, said peace could be achieved in half a year if Israel extends the settlement moratorium.

"What are three or four months, for the sake of the continuation of the peace talks and for the sake of reaching an agreement in three or six months," Mubarak said in an Israeli television interview due to air on Saturday, extracts of which were carried by Egypt`s MENA state news agency.

Some 500,000 Israelis live in more than 120 Jewish settlements across the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories expected to form the bulk of a future Palestinian state.

Bureau Report