The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has suggested that Israel extend the current moratorium on construction in West Bank settlements by an additional three months, in order resolve the disagreement surrounding the issue in recently relaunched direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the London-based Arabic language newspaper Asharq Al Awsat reported on Thursday.
In November, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a 10-month freeze on construction in West Bank settlements, which is set to expire in 10 days. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other senior Palestinian negotiators have announced repeatedly that if Israel resumes construction on territory they envision as part of the future Palestinian state, talks would immediately break down.
According to Asharq Al Awsat, Abbas has agreed to the U.S. suggestion, but Netanyahu has yet to respond.
The Prime Minister's Office issued a statement later Thursday morning, saying that "we don't comment on the content of negotiations. The position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the time period allotted in advance for the West Bank settlement freeze is well known, and hasn't changed."
Palestinian sources said Thursday that during their meeting in Jerusalem on Wednesday, Netanyahu told Abbas that Israel would resume construction in the settlements at the end of the month. Abbas reportedly replied that in that case, the Palestinians will have to withdraw from peace negotiations.
U.S. envoy George Mitchell, however, said Wednesday that the peace talks were being conducted more seriously and faster than the ones he brokered in Northern Ireland in the 1990s.
Mitchell particularly noted progress regarding the construction freeze in the West Bank settlements. Associates close to Netanyahu echoed the Palestinian claim that Netanyahu had stressed during the meeting that the moratorium would not be extended.
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