Lieberman: Palestinians Use Settlement Freeze as an Excuse to Undermine Peace Talks

Foreign Minister tells British counterpart that there is no chance Israel will extend moratorium on construction in West Bank settlements beyond Sept. 26 expiration date.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told his British counterpart William Hague over the weekend that Israel could not possibly extend the moratorium on construction in West Bank settlements beyond the agreed upon September 26 deadline.

lieberman - AP - Sept 15 2010

Last November, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a 10-month freeze on construction in West Bank settlements, in efforts to jumpstart stalled peace talks with the Palestinians. Palestinian negotiators have repeatedly stressed that they would not negotiate with Israel as long as Israeli construction on land they envision for a future state continued.

Lieberman told Hague that "the Palestinians wasted nine months, and even in the tenth month they did not come to the talks out of goodwill to reach an agreement, but because they were forced to," referring to the relaunch of direct peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on September 2.

"The settlement freeze is just a Palestinian excuse to undermine peace talks, and anyone who seeks excuses will find another excuse even if the freeze is extended," Lieberman told the British foreign secretary.

"Israel's government offered extensive goodwill gestures over the last year, and it is now the Palestinians' turn," Lieberman went on to say. "Israel would be happy to continue on the track of direct peace negotiations without preconditions, including no conditions regarding the future of the settlement construction freeze."

Lieberman was responding to recent declarations by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other key Palestinian officials who have said that they would abandon peace talks with Israel if the construction resumes.

The foreign minister also said that the international community must understand that Israel needs to be given incentives, not just to be pressured, to achieve peace. He also mentioned that Israel has been waiting for quite some time to upgrade its diplomatic ties with the European Union.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak called a meeting this week as the settlement building freeze order nears its end in two weeks' time. The purpose of the meeting was for the Defense Ministry to find ways to restrict building regardless of a freeze order, since it is the sovereign power in the West Bank.

According to a senior source who is privy to details of the Defense Ministry discussions on building restrictions, there are a number of legal means that can be utilized to restrict new construction for a lengthy period.

Other legal tools are also being considered to delay the building of 2,000 housing units that received all the requisite permits before the construction freeze took effect, the source said.