US Snubs Netanyahu over Settlements

The Obama administration scrapped a scheduled meeting between its Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell and hawkish Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu over his right-wing government’s refusal to heed American calls for a settlement freeze.

"Once you’ve finished the homework we gave you on stopping construction in the settlements, let us know," Israel’s Yediot Aharonot daily quoted an Israeli official as outlining Washington’s message.

"Until then, there’s no point in having Mitchell fly to Paris to meet you."

Mitchell was due to meet Netanyahu during his current visit to France before canceling it.

Netanyahu’s aides claimed he cancelled the meeting not the Americans.

"Israel is the one that called off the meeting with Mitchell due to the need to collect data and present them to him in an organized manner," a senior official accompanying Netanyahu told Yediot Aharonot.

"The claim that the Americans canceled the meeting due to a disagreement is unfounded."

US and Israeli, long-time allies, have been at odds over the continued construction of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian territories.

Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have repeatedly asked Israel for a full freeze on settlement building, including the so-called natural growth.

In a major speech last week, Netanyahu repeated his rejection to such calls and said Israel would continue to expand settlements.

Defiant Israel

The Israeli official played down prospects for a swift breakthrough between Israel and the US on settlements.

"A lot of hard work is needed to reach common ground."

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved on Tuesday, June 23, a plan to construct hundreds of homes in settlements in the occupied West Bank.

"The plan intends to create territorial contiguity between the settlement of Talmon and the Water Reservoir Hill outpost and to enlarge the settlement at the expense of Palestinian villagers in the area," an Israeli right group said in a statement.

This is the second time in the last few months that Barak approves plans for the extension of existing settlements or for new settlements.

Israel is allocating 250 million dollars over the next two years for settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The figure is contained in the 2009-2010 budget, which passed its first reading in the Knesset parliament last week.

The Peace Now anti-settlement watchdog said that the settlement spending in the two-year budget was likely to be higher and spread over several sections of the budget.

More than 280,000 Jewish settlers live in settlements in the West Bank, which Israel occupied in the 1967 war.

Under the internationally-backed roadmap, Israel must freeze all settlement activities, seen as a major obstacle to peace efforts.

The international community considers all Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land illegal.

( and Agencies)

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