Israeli FM Rejects US Call for Settlement Freeze

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman late Wednesday reiterated Israel’s objection to a complete settlement freeze as the United States considers allowances that could permit some projects already under way to proceed.

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stuck to U.S. demands for settlement freeze following talks with her Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman, their first meeting since Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-leaning government came to office in late March.

"We want to see a stop to the settlements," Clinton told reporters as she stood next to Lieberman, himself a settler.

"We think that is an important and essential part of pursuing the efforts leading to a comprehensive agreement and the creation of a Palestinian next to an Israeli Jewish state that is secure in its borders and future," she said.

On May 27, the chief U.S. diplomat said Obama made it clear during Netanyahu’s visit to Washington the same month that he wants no "natural growth exceptions" to his call for a settlement freeze.

Israel did not have "any intention to change the demographic balance" of the West Bank, said Lieberman, head of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, part of Netanyahu’s Likud-led coalition government.

"But we think that as in any place, babies are born, people get married, some pass away and we cannot accept this vision about an absolutely complete freezing of settlements," said Lieberman.

"I think that we must keep the natural growth," he said.
 
"This approach is very clear and also we had some understandings with the previous administration (of George W. Bush) and we try to keep this direction," he said.

Clinton disagreed.

"In looking at the history of the Bush administration, there were no informal or oral enforceable agreements," she said, repeating earlier statements.
 
Flexibility of U.S. Demand

The Obama administration announced meanwhile that George Mitchell, the special envoy for Middle East peace, will travel on June 25 to Paris for talks with Netanyahu.

Mitchell has said a key element has been trying to pin down exactly what Israel means by the "natural growth." Netanyahu says he wants growing families to be able to accommodate their children in towns that Israelis have built on occupied land.

While firm in demanding a ban on new tenders as part of an overall settlement freeze, Western and Israeli officials said the Obama administration was assessing in which cases continued building could be permitted.
 
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said allowances for continued building could be made if, for example, a project in a settlement was nearing completion or for cases in which money has been invested in a project and cannot be reimbursed.

"There’s room for some flexibility in defining what’s acceptable in terms of a settlement freeze. Where do you draw the line?" the official said of deliberations within the Obama administration.

(Agencies and Alarabiya.net)

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