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17 Jun

Israel – Lieberman rejects settlement freeze

The US has been pressing Israel on the issue of Jewish settlements on occupied land [EPA]

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Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister, has said his country could not accept a “complete” freeze on settlement building in the West Bank, despite US calls to do so.

Lieberman rejected a renewed call by Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, to halt construction on Palestinian land, following talks between the two in Washington on Wednesday.

“We cannot accept this vision about an absolutely complete freezing of settlements,” he told a news conference.

Lieberman insisted that  “we had some understandings with the previous administration, and we (will) try to keep this direction,” referring to an alleged acceptance by George Bush, the former US president, that natural growth would be sanctioned.

Clinton, however, rejected this, saying that there were no records of such an agreement.

“As President Obama, Senator Mitchell and I have said, we want to see a stop to the settlements,” she said.

Clinton said George Mitchell, the US administration’s Middle East envoy, would have more discussions on “critical concerns” during forthcoming talks with Israel.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, is set to meet Mitchell in Europe next week to try to hammer out an agreement, Israeli officials said.

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Media reports said on Wednesday that the US could allow some building within existing settlements, while demanding a ban on new tenders as part of an overall settlement freeze.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told Al Jazeera he was pleased that Clinton has reiterated the US demand on settlements, but was worried by reports that a deal could be agreed between the US and Israel.

“Madam Clinton was very clear and she spoke of obligations. Stopping settlement activity including natural growth and the two-state solution are not conditions. These are Israeli obligations.”

“What worries me are reports about deals on settlements. Lieberman speaks about natural growth… but 40 per cent of the built up areas of settlements are vacant. This is about land grab. This is about dictating and not negotiating.”

Erekat said he believed that Lieberman and Netanhayu would tell the US that home-building within settlements that had already begun could not be stopped…………………………………………………………………………..

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