Friday, October 28, 2011

US asks Israel for additional settlement freeze

Army Radio: U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro delivers latest request for Judea and Samaria building freeze during a visit with Interior Minister Eli Yishai • Ultra-Orthodox paper: U.S. may free Jonathan Pollard if Israel agrees to a construction freeze.

Israeli Hayom Staff and News Agencies

The U.S. has asked the Israeli government to initiate another settlement freeze in Judea and Samaria in order to help America's effort to thwart the Palestinian push for independence at the U.N. and expedite the possibility of resuming peace talks, Army Radio reported Thursday. Israel stopped settlement building for 10 months in 2010, the first nine months of which the Palestinian Authority refused to return to talks, calling the freeze "irrelevant." However, as the freeze was entering its final phase, the PA demanded it be extended. Israel has long argued that a settlement freeze has not led to the desired result of getting the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, and that Palestinian intransigence on recognizing Israel as a Jewish state is the real reason for the diplomatic deadlock. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said in response to the report that a settlement freeze is not a precondition to the resumption of talks, but an obligation the Israeli government has to carry out.

On Thursday, Army Radio reported that U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro delivered the latest request for a settlement freeze during a visit with Interior Minister and Shas Chairman Eli Yishai on Wednesday. According to the radio account, Shapiro told Yishai that the Obama administration would object to the Palestinian bid for unilateral independence at the U.N. in any case, and would use its veto if necessary, but that to make it easier to get European nations to also block the Palestinian move, the U.S. would be helped if Israel once again froze construction in Judea and Samaria, even partially.

Yishai responded that no previous Israeli government had been required to freeze settlement construction as a precondition to peace talks, and that therefore there was no reason why this government would agree to such a formula.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israel Hayom on Thursday that the request for a settlement freeze was not raised in discussions between Israeli officials and representatives from the Quartet held Wednesday. The spokesman added that Netanyahu had made his position clear that there would be no further construction freezes, and that the appeal to Yishai was an attempt to circumvent the regular channels.

According to reports in the Israeli media earlier in the week, the U.S. plan would see Israel halt the construction of new neighborhoods but could continue building in existing settlements. The idea is that Israel would refrain from any construction outside current settlement boundaries, reminiscent of a similar arrangement between the Bush and Sharon governments. There would be no U.S. condemnations if there is construction only within existing settlements, according to the latest plan.

The PLO's Erekat said Tuesday that the U.S. had not officially informed the Palestinian leadership of any proposal to partially freeze settlement building.

In what may be a related development, the U.S. could release convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence in a North Carolina prison, in exchange for Israel agreeing to a settlement freeze, the local Jerusalem ultra-Orthodox newspaper BaKehila reported Thursday morning. According to the report, the details of the deal over Pollard's release have already been finalized by the U.S. and Israel. The U.S. reportedly said it would agree to free Pollard on humanitarian grounds due to his poor health, and in return Israel will agree to commit to a temporary freeze on settlement construction in Judea and Samaria. The Pollard deal is expected to be signed in the coming weeks, the report said.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu met with Shas spiritual advisor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and the two reportedly discussed Pollard. Yosef apparently urged Netanyahu to advance the issue of the Israeli spy's release.

Meanwhile, international mediators on Wednesday failed to make any breakthroughs in their quest to bring Israeli and Palestinian officials back to the negotiating table, but in a small sign of progress, they announced that both sides would present "comprehensive proposals" for resolving key aspects of their conflict within three months.

Representatives from both sides met envoys of the Quartet -- made up of the U.S., Russia, EU and U.N. -- after previous attempts to jump-start peace negotiations had fallen short. The Palestinians turned down a request for face-to-face talks with the Israelis, so negotiations were held separately with each side.

"The parties agreed with the Quartet to come forward with comprehensive proposals on territory and security within three months in the context of our shared commitment to the objective of direct negotiations leading toward an agreement by the end of 2012," a U.N. official said on behalf of the Quartet.

The Quartet envoys also called on the sides to "resume direct bilateral negotiations without delay or preconditions" and said they would meet the parties regularly over the next 90 days.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement, after his top negotiator Yitzhak Molcho met the Quartet envoys, that Israel was interested in restarting direct talks without preconditions.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, after meeting the Quartet officials, said in a statement that the Palestinians were "prepared to sit at the negotiating table as soon as the Israeli government freezes all settlement construction and accepts clear terms of reference, specifically the 1967 borders. Anything short of that will simply put us back on the failed track that we have been on for the last 20 years."

Expressing his frustration with the Palestinian leadership, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday denounced Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the "greatest obstacle to peace" and said his resignation would be a "blessing."

It was the second time in two days that Lieberman had attacked Abbas, sparking a furious denunciation by his Palestinian counterpart, Riyad al-Malki, who accused him of "incitement to murder."

"Abu Mazen's resignation would be a blessing because he represents the greatest obstacle to peace," Lieberman told Israel's Army Radio, using Abbas's nom-de-guerre.

"He has decided to sacrifice the interests of the Palestinians for his own benefit, to defend his place in history," said Lieberman, referring to Abbas's attempts to secure U.N. membership for the state of Palestine.

Comment: There is much more behind this story. It is a smoke and mirrors justification the USA is using to get us to halt construction-their stated reasons are not tru at ll. We, Israel, need some critical hardware that a specific country sold us and now is about to with hold-we do this for America, they continue on with the sale. It is never what it seems over here.

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