Netanyahu: Likud-led coalition wouldn't build new settlements
Likud chief tells Quartet envoy Tony Blair that he would allow for natural growth in West Bank.
A Likud-led government would not build new settlements in the West Bank but would allow for natural growth, Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu told Quartet envoy Tony Blair Sunday, in an apparent attempt to calm the international community before this week's arrival of George Mitchell, the newly appointed U.S. envoy to the Middle East.
"I have no intention of building new settlements in the West Bank," Netanyahu told Blair in a meeting Sunday. "But like all the governments there have been until now, I will have to meet the needs of natural growth in the population. I will not be able to choke the settlements."
Netanyahu also said he plans to work to advance negotiations with the Palestinians quickly and to focus on economic development.
"Every moment of stagnation isn't good, and I plan to deal with the Palestinian issue very intensively," he said.
Netanyahu and Blair discussed the renewed American interest in the Middle East and Mitchell's visit to the region, as well as the 2001 Mitchell Report compiled by a committee he headed. The report led to the roadmap and called for a freeze in settlement construction.
Mitchell, who is due to arrive Wednesday, will be meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Netanyahu. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has delayed a trip to Washington planned for Tuesday night so he will be able to meet with Mitchell as well - although when Mitchell was appointed Mideast envoy by then-U.S. president Bill Clinton in the final days of the Barak government, the Labor leader ordered the army and government ministries not to cooperate with him.
According to Likud officials, Netanyahu recently said he would like to form a coalition without Kadima because he doesn't think the leaders of the Likud breakaway party could survive a stint in the opposition, ultimately causing Kadima to disappear from politics. The officials said Netanyahu wants to include Labor, Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas in a Likud-led government.
Mazal Mualem contributed to this report.
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