Netanyahu: Restrained Settlement Construction Won't Affect Peace Process

PM says settlement freeze wasn't easy, PA must now show their flexibility; U.S. and EU meetings with Israeli, PA officials end with no signs of breakthrough.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted Friday that the Palestinians are at fault for the stalemate in peace talks and claimed that the renewal of construction in West Bank settlements should not affect the peace process.

"For 17 years they negotiated with the Israeli government during settlement construction, including the last year of the former government," Netanyahu said during discussions with his advisers on Friday.

netanyahu - Tomer Appelbaum - Sept 12 2010
Tomer Appelbaum

"Everyone knows that restrained and moderate construction in Judea and Samaria in the next year will not even affect the peace process. Therefore the international community needs to call on the Palestinians to continue engaging in peace talks. It is in the interest of the Palestinians just as it is in ours," he said.

Both U.S. envoy George Mitchell and the European Union's Catherine Ashton urged Netanyahu over the past few days to halt settlement construction and solve the impasse with the Palestinians, though their efforts have thus far showed no sign of breakthrough.

U.S. State Department Spokesman Philip J. Crowley told Haaretz on Friday, "It is time for the leaders to demonstrate the political will, convey to their constituencies that there's value in staying in these negotiations. We hope that the leaders will make the right decision."

"There are tough political decisions that both sides have to make. We understand that," Crowley continued. "But we believe that by demonstrating that through concessions and gestures that can be offered on both sides, leaders can see and then in turn convey to their respective people that it is important and necessary for these talks to continue."

The Prime Minister's Office claims that the government is still exerting efforts to find a creative solution to the settlement freeze crisis, although they continue to point a blaming finger at the Palestinians.

Netanyahu pointed out Friday that freezing settlement construction for 10 months wasn't easy, but Israel still did it.

"We did it in order to give [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] the opportunity to enter direct negotiations without preconditions. Now I expect that the Palestinians show their flexibility and continue with peace talks," said Netanyahu.

Netanyahu added that he initiated a line of one-sided gestures in order to set peace talks in motion. "Unfortunately, as opposed to us, the Palestinians are just hardening their stance," he said.