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Nov 25, 2009 15:32 | Updated Nov 25, 2009 22:57
‘Let us make peace,’ says PM in announcing settlement freeze
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced a ten-month settlement freeze at a Jerusalem press conference on Wednesday evening after the security cabinet approved the plan, and called on the Palestinians to make peace with Israel.
“We authorize it from a deep desire to move forward toward peace,” he said, adding that Israel hoped it would lead to “meaningful negotiations” toward a “historic peace agreement” with the Palestinians.
Concerning Jerusalem, the prime minister said his position was “well known,” that “we won’t put any restrictions on building in our sovereign capital.”
“Israel’s government has made an important step toward peace today,” Netanyahu said. “Let us make peace together.”
Eleven security cabinet members voted in favor of the settlement freeze with only Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau opposing it.
The plan, which applies only to the West Bank and does not include Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, will now go to the full cabinet on Sunday for final approval.
The freeze applies only to new construction, meaning housing already underway will continue.
Also, Netanyahu said, only new homes are included.
“We will not halt existing construction and we will continue to build synagogues, schools, kindergartens and public buildings essential for normal life” in the settlements, he said.
Shas members of the security cabinet boycotted Wednesday’s meeting, with Interior Minister Eli Yishai explaining that the party “will never agree to a freeze on settlement construction, even for one day.”
Yishai went on to say that a freeze on settlement construction would “not strengthen anything, and will be perceived as a sign of weakness.”
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said at the start of the meeting that “the freeze on West Bank settlement construction is a responsible and reasonable decision.”
Furthermore, said Barak, the aim of the freeze would be to keep the window open for a renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians.
“Israel is powerful and has a strong deterrent capability, but time is not necessarily on our side,” continued the defense minister. “It is imperative to move towards a two state solution. There are no alternatives.”
Barak said that he hoped that the Yesha leadership, which is undoubtedly patriotic, responsible, and serious, would “understand the need for this decision at this time.” Barak went on to say that thesecurity cabinet’s decision was based on an understanding with the United States pertaining to renewed negotiations.
Barak concluded his remarks by saying that the continued security and military superiority of Israel would be key factors in the decision.
Meanwhile, an official Kadima statement read, that the party “supports any move that will return Israel to negotiations toward a final settlement, which will preserve Israel’s national and security interests, just like we conducted and from the point they left off.”
However, Kadima MK Nahman Shai was dissatisfied.
He said that “only now that Israel is seen as being insubordinate” in the eyes of the world was Netanyahu “going against his will” and calling for a settlement freeze, adding that it was “too little, too late.”
The Palestinian Authority strongly rejected Netanyahu’s plan and reiterated its refusal to return to the negotiating table with Israel.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said there was nothing new in Netanyahu’s announcement, pointing to the 3,000 new housing units under construction in the West Bank.
“This is not a moratorium. Unfortunately, we hoped he would commit to a real settlement freeze so we can resume negotiations and he had a choice between settlements and peace and he chose settlements.”
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas, announced that the Palestinians rejected the plan because it did not includeJerusalem.
“For the Palestinians and Arabs, Jerusalem is a red line that can’t be crossed,” Abu Rudaineh said. “We can’t accept any settlement construction freeze that does not includeJerusalem.”
Abu Rudaineh said that the Palestinians would resume peace talks with Israel only after Israel freezes construction work in the West Bank and eastJerusalem.
Both Erekat and Abu Rudaineh are accompanying Abbas on a tour of a number of Latin American countries, including Brazil, Argentine and Chile.
Kilde: Jerusalem Post