New settlement freeze unlikely: Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will resume construction activities in the West Bank at the expiry of a ten-month freeze later this month.

Jerusalem: Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel will resume construction
activities in the West Bank at the expiry of a ten-month
freeze later this month, but hinted at a compromise to satisfy
his overwhelmingly right-wing dominated coalition partners.

Refusing to bow to Palestinian demands to continue a
freeze on building activities in the West Bank, Netanyahu was
unsure "if there will be a comprehensive freeze".

"I don`t know if there will be a comprehensive
freeze," Netanyahu was quoted as saying by the Haaretz online
at the weekly cabinet meeting here today.

"But I also don`t know if it is necessary to construct
all of the 20,000 housing units waiting to be built. In any
case, between zero and one there are a lot of possibilities,"
he said.

Israel unilaterally declared a temporary suspension of
settlement activities in the West Bank last November for a ten
month period that now expires on September 30 after the Jewish
state agreed to extend it by four days.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said
repeatedly that he will walk out of direct talks if the
moratorium does not continue throughout negotiations,
projected to last a year.

Israel`s deputy Prime Minister and Minister for
Industry, Trade and labour, Ellie Yishai, expressed opposition
to the idea of continuing with the freeze on building
activities in the West Bank.

"We need to face the truth and not hide our heads in
the sand. I am very skeptical. I do not believe that the
Palestinians want political negotiations," Yishai said
favouring the resumption of constructions.

Ahead of the crucial second round of US-backed direct
talks, Natalyahu also underlined that peace will be possible
only if the Palestinian leadership agrees to recognise Israel
as a Jewish state.

Amid widening differences over the formula for peace
talks, the hardline Prime Minister warned that the recognition
as a Jewish state by the Palestinians is "fundamental" to the
success of the peace process -- a demand the Palestinians have
long rejected.

He told his ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting
today that just as Israel and he personally had recognised the
rights of Palestinians, Israel would demand for its
recognition as the national homeland of the Jewish people.

"This is the basis for peace," he said.

Netanyahu stressed that Palestinian refusal to
acknowledge Israel`s Jewish status was obstructing progress
toward a two-state solution.

"Sadly, I have not heard the Palestinians talk of two
states for two nations. They speak of two states - but not two
nations," he emphasised.

The demand, which has been repeatedly rejected by
the Palestinians, could further complicate the newly
relaunched negotiations which go into a second round in Egypt
tomorrow with the participation of US Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton.


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