West Bank settlement construction will not affect the final status peace deal between Israel and a future Palestinian state, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday, adding that he felt the settlement issue wasn't an obstacle to continued peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.
The premier had refused to extend a 10-month moratorium on new West Bank settlement housing that expired on September 26, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas saying he won’t resume the talks without an extension on the building curbs.
Earlier Thursday, Abbas hinted that the Palestinians would try to persuade the United States to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, if Israel kept up its refusal to freeze settlements.
“For now, we are focusing on the first option [negotiations],” Abbas said.
Speaking after a meeting with U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman on Thursday, Netanyahu seemingly rejected the Palestinian stance, saying the settlement issue was "not substantial" and that construction in the settlements "will not influence the peace map."
In a statement released by the premier's office earlier Thursday, Netanyahu also seemingly related to the tacit PA threat of unilateral statehood, saying he expected the "Palestinians to live up to their obligations by holding serious direct negotiations, without malice and without preconditions."
"Any attempt to bypass direct talks by appealing to international bodies will do nothing to advance the true peace process," the PM's statements said, adding that the two peoples could achieve "a secure and stable peace solely through direct negotiations, a path I hope we shall return to in full force soon."
Referring to the impasse in Middle East peace talks, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Thursday that the settlements "is a very difficult issue. It is - it's one that has been with us for decades, and we are trying to make some slow progress on it."
The White House official added that there were "are a series of very tough issues that have to be addressed between the two sides as we move forward, adding that the United States was continuing "to work."
"There are no guarantees in this process. We do know this: That the process works best and has its maximum of working if the United States is actively engaged in the process of bringing these two parties and these two sides together," Gibbs said, adding that the sides aren't going "to make progress if the United States is not involved."
"That's why the president has dedicated such time to trying to bring about a two-state solution to, again, a problem that has been very, very difficult," Gibbs said, adding that Washington "started this process, again, at the beginning of his administration, and even in the talks that were held here, with no illusions that this one was going to be the easy problem that we'd picked to solve."
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