The US and Israel have once again failed to end a public row over Tel Aviv’s illegal settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
During a four-hour meeting with US President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East in London on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again refused to heed international calls backed by the US for a complete end to the expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, considered the main obstacle to peace.
Netanyahu, who is on a four-day European tour, had earlier rejected Britain’s demand for a halt to the illegal work, saying his government will not allow new settlements, but wants to continue building within existing ones to allow for "natural growth".
Palestinians have repeatedly said that they will resume peace negotiations only after Israel completely halts all settlement activity. Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem — where the Palestinians claim for the capital of their future state — during the 1967 war.
The Guardian newspaper had earlier reported that Israel was close to an agreement on a partial settlement freeze in return for tougher international sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program and diplomatic relations with Arab countries.
Spokesmen for the two officials said that Netanyahu and US envoy George Mitchell made "good progress" during their discussions, agreeing that "meaningful" talks must start with Palestinians. No other details of their meeting have been revealed.
"The prime minister and George Mitchell agreed that there is a need to begin meaningful negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in order to move towards a regional peace agreement," said the Hebrew-language statement.
According to a statement released after the meeting, Israeli and US officials will meet again next week in Washington to pursue efforts to revive the long-stalled peace process.