Published on Friday, September 4, 2009 by The Times Online/
US Fury as
by Sheera Frenkel in
Israeli soldiers patrol the occupied West Bank city of
Ignoring pleas from the Obama administration that
In a nod to
The move came as a surprise to US and Palestinian officials involved in the negotiations leading to a new
"We regret the reports of
"In the end,
Washington is pushing Mr Netanyahu to freeze all construction in the settlements, which have been a key impediment to the peace talks. But the Jewish settlements, built on land earmarked for a future Palestinian state, are fiercely supported by much of the right-wing constituency that elected Mr Netanyahu.
The new plan drawn up by Mr Netanyahu and outlined by officials close to him seeks to placate the right-wing elements of his coalition, while moving forward on conditions laid down by the Obama Administration.
It proposes that
Mr Netanyahu also plans to approve the construction of approximately 500 additional housing units, bringing the total number of units to 3,000, aides said. The proposal infuriated Palestinian negotiators who accused
"What the Israeli Government said is not useful. It is unacceptable for us. We want a freeze on all settlement construction," said Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President. He reiterated that the entire
Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator, also slammed the move, stating that it was unacceptable and could threaten to detail progress made in the peace process.
Mr Abbas is under US pressure to accept Israel's conditions ahead of a summit being planned on the fringes of the UN General Assembly meeting between himself, Mr Netanyahu, and President Obama.
Washington's Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who is due in the region next week, has been pressing Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to reach a basic understanding before the meeting, brokered by the US Administration. It appeared unlikely, however, that the
Kurt Hoyer, spokesman for the US embassy in Tel Aviv, said that
American officials have long been pushing for a settlement freeze, with one senior State Department official telling the Jerusalem Post newspaper that a nine-month halt to construction would be "long enough to be credible and for negotiations to proceed".
There has been a great deal of speculation regarding the concessions Mr Netanyahu is willing to make. In a landmark speech earlier this year, he declared for the first time that Palestinians should be granted an independent state.
Nevertheless, construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank has continued, albeit at a slower pace, since he took office. Government statistics released this week showed that Jewish construction in the settlements fell by one-third in the first half of 2009.
Palestinians hope to make Jerusalem their future capital, and the 1967 Green line, which roughly demarcates the border upon which the negotiations are being conducted, establishes east
Palestinians negotiators, however, say that a deal on Jerusalem is still within reach, and that they have made it clear to Israeli and
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