Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel could not ignore growing international pressure over construction in the West Bank, but said that the government would preserve ongoing settlement activity to the best of its ability.
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"We are currently making efforts to maintain the existing construction, but we must understand that we are [faced with] a very difficult international reality," Netanyahu told ministers from his Likud faction.
Netanyahu was speaking one week after the United States vetoed a United Nations resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and four days before Mideast Quartet officials were to meet Israeli and Palestinian representatives in an effort to jump start the peace process.
"The American veto in the Security Council took great effort to achieve," said Netanyahu. "We could ignore it all and say 'no problem', but as the prime minister responsible for this state, I have the ultimate responsibility."
As such, he hinted that Israel should refrain from pushing forth new construction plans.
"I am the prime minister, and I am responsible for this state," said Netanyahu. "We could surely keep banging our heads into the wall, but that's not how I do things."
Nevertheless, Netanyahu said, the government would strive to ensure that the current settlement activity was conducted within the legal realm. "There is construction in Judea and Samaria," Netanyahu said. "It's true that in some places there are no tenders and that is being checked, but we are currently making efforts to maintain the existing construction."
Meanwhile, the forum of Israel's seven senior ministers will meet this Tuesday to reach a decision on whether to send Netanyahu's adviser and peace-talks representative Yitzhak Molcho to the Quartet conference.
Netanyahu has voiced his reservations to the meeting, fearing that by agreeing he would open the door to international influence on the terms of the renewed talks. Specifically, the premier is worried of being forced to resume talks toward a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders.
Officials in the Prime Minister's Office indicated that Netanyahu had been in contact with the U.S. administration in an attempt to find out the purpose of the Brussels session, and its purported goals, before making his final decision.