Netanyahu: I never promised to extend West Bank settlement construction freeze
Netanyahu tells Likud ministers that future of settlements will be discussed as a final-status issue in peace talks with the Palestinians.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Likud ministers on Sunday that he had not made any promises to U.S. President Barack Obama or any other American government official regarding an extension of the settlement construction freeze in the West Bank.
"We made no proposals to the Americans on extending the freeze," Netanyahu said. "We said that the future of the communities will be discussed as one of the elements of a final-status settlement, along with the other issues. We promised nothing on this issue to the Americans."
Netanyahu sharply criticized the Palestinian demand for extending Israel's 10-month construction freeze, which expires September 26.
"They are building an entire city with our encouragement and then they are fighting with us over every house in Judea and Samaria," said Netanyahu. "The hiatus of construction prior to the cabinet resolution [approving the freeze] lasted 10 months, during which we called them for talks. Now, three weeks before the end of that time, they come to the talks and say that we must continue the building freeze. This raises questions about the seriousness of the Palestinians to enter talks in good faith. They are building an entire city and they fight with us over every home."
Information and Diaspora Minister Yuli Edelstein also referred to Rawabi, the first planned Palestinian city, which is being built near Ramallah and is meant to house 30,000 people. He said that while the Palestinians were building that city with Israeli support, Israel was being told to freeze all construction.
Although the Likud meeting lasted no more than 30 minutes, Netanyahu was hit with a barrage of questions, all of which had to do with the future of the settlement freeze and the Washington summit scheduled to begin Wednesday.
Netanyahu is scheduled to travel to Washington at noon on Tuesday.
Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom told Netanyahu he understood the summit would deal with the construction freeze and other substantive issues, despite earlier reports that it would be little more than symbolic.
Shalom, who had argued in the past that Netanyahu was not keeping the ministers up to date on developments, asked the prime minister to offer clarifications.
"We have held talks with the Americans and there is no change in our stance," Netanyahu told Shalom. "I assume that there will be problems, but the framework of negotiations is the way it was established, without preconditions. I do not know that there is any intention to go beyond discussion on procedure in Washington."
Some of the ministers wanted to know whether Netanyahu supports Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor's proposal to extend the freeze in isolated settlements but resume construction in settlement blocs.
"What is the American position on this matter?" asked Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar. "Do they accept this distinction?"
Benny Begin, a minister without portfolio, said no Israeli gover nment has ever distinguished between isolated settlements and settlement blocs.
"In the media they call this proposal a compromise," Begin said. "It really is not a compromise. It is a clear decision to distinguish between communities, and this is not part of the cabinet decision that was made. If this is what we want to do, then a new decision is required."
Netanyahu reiterated his stance that the cabinet resolution on the settlement freeze was limited to the 10-month period of the original hiatus and said he had not discussed with the Americans the possibility of extending it.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ehud Barak met on Sunday with Jordan's King Abdullah II, and discussed the diplomatic efforts ahead of the summit in Washington.
"Peace is a strategic goal of Israel and we expect the Palestinians to come to the talks with an open heart," Barak told the king.