Netanyahu volte-face on issue of Jewish settlements



Netanyahu volte-face on issue of Jewish settlements Jerusalem: Succumbing to pressures from his right-wing Likud party, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday made a volte-face on the issue of Jewish settlements in West Bank, saying Israel would 'continue construction' in East Jerusalem as it has been doing over the last 42 years.

Israel's nod last week for the construction of 1,600 new settlements for Jews in East Jerusalem angered the US, particularly since it coincided with a visit by Vice-President Joe Biden aimed at promoting renewed peace talks with the Palestinians.

The issue has led to a diplomatic row leading to the worst crisis in US-Israel ties in the last 35 years.

Last week, Netanyahu had described the construction of 1600 housing units in the area as "destructive" and an incident that "should not have happened".

Facing members of his right-wing ruling Likud party, Netanyahu retracted from yesterday's position by asserting that Israel would 'continue to build in Jerusalem in the same way that it has over the last 42 years".

Speaking to his cabinet yesterday, Netanyahu had described the embarrassing incident when the Interior Ministry announced new constructions in East Jerusalem during US Vice President Joe Biden's visit as "destructive", he constituted a committee to look into the fiasco which has strained Israel-US ties.

The Israeli premier did not specifically address the diplomatic crisis with US over Israel's announcement that it would construct 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, but political analysts have been predicting a hard time for the hawkish Israeli leader leading an overwhelmingly right-wing dominated coalition peppered with some extreme elements in his own party.

When asked by lawmaker Tzipi Hotovely as to what would happen in September, when the 10-month settlement freeze in the West Bank ends, Netanyahu responded by saying that construction would continue unabated".

The Likud party leader, serving a second term as Prime Minister, has come under continuous criticism from the local press for political insistence - saying one thing and retracting soon wilting under political pressures.

Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, has told the country's diplomats there that US.

US-Israeli relations face their worst crisis in 35 years, despite attempts by the Prime Minister Benjamin to project a sense of "business as usual," daily Ha'aretz reported.

Meanwhile, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak earlier asked the government to work toward defusing the diplomatic crisis over Israeli construction in East Jerusalem and getting peace talks with the Palestinians back on track.

PTI