Lieberman Rejects Link Between Direct Talks, Settlement Halt

Foreign Minister rules out extension of building freeze after conclusion of 10-month moratorium.

Israel has no plants to extend a building freeze in West Bank settlements after September, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday, and rejected any link between the moratorium and the start of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Rejecting one of the Palestinian Authority's conditions for moving to direct negotiations, Lieberman told a joint news conference with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos that there was no room for linkage between such talks and a settlement construction freeze.

Avigdor Lieberman & Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, Jerusalem, 28 July 2010

"We must start direct talks, but there is no place for a (construction) moratorium after September 25," he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the construction freeze in West Bank settlements last November, after months of pressure from the Obama administration, and following a Palestinian refusal to begin talks without one.

The PA however described the freeze as insufficient, since it was partial, limited to 10 months, and did not include East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as the capital of their future state.

However, the sides did begin indirect talks in the spring, mediated by US envoy George Mitchell, who shuttles the short distance between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Netanyahu has pushed for these negotiations to become face-to-face, but Abbas said in an interview Sunday that this could go ahead "only if progress is made in the issues of security, borders and the freeze of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem."

The last round of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were suspended in late 2008 when Israel entered an election period.