Israeli PM hints at "midway options" on construction freeze dispute

08:35, September 13, 2010      

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The body of a Palestinian is seen at the hospital morgue after he was killed during Israeli artillery shelling in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun on Sept. 12, 2010. Three Palestinians were killed and two others wounded on Sunday in an Israeli artillery shelling on the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun, medical sources and witnesses said. (Xinhua/Wissam Nassar)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday hinted that he may be willing to adopt "midway options" to solve the Jewish settlement construction dispute after the government's building moratorium expires later in the month.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has vowed repeatedly in recent weeks to quit direct talks, launched in Washington earlier this month, if construction activity in the West Bank Jewish settlements resumes.

While Netanyahu has not announced any binding decisions, the Israeli premier Sunday suggested a partial continuation of the moratorium.

"There's all or nothing, but there are also midway options ( regarding the construction freeze debate)," Netanyahu said at his cabinet's weekly session.

"I don't know if there will be a comprehensive freeze, but I also don't know if it is necessary to construct all of the 20,000 housing units waiting to be built -- between zero and one there are a lot of possibilities," Netanyahu was quoted by local daily Ha'aretz.

Netanyahu and Abbas are slated to meet on Tuesday for the continuation of talks in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el- Sheikh, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. special Middle East envoy George Mitchell and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on hand. Both leaders will meet again the following day in Jerusalem.

U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday moved to soothe tensions between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in an effort to prevent a potential breakdown at the outset of talks.

"It turns out, to Netanyahu's credit and to the Israeli government's credit, that the settlement moratorium has actually been significant. It has significantly reduced settlement construction in the region," Obama told reporters on Friday.

While Netanyahu did not offer details of the "midway options," some of his ministers have already spoken out strongly on the fate of the construction moratorium.

Education and Sports Minister Limor Livnat said at Sunday's cabinet session that construction must resume. However, Minister of Improvement of Government Services Michael Eitan said the international atmosphere must be taken into account when deciding on the matter.

Meanwhile, a senior Israeli official told the local daily of Ha 'aretz over the weekend that Israel has refused a visit by five senior European ministers in order to avoid what the report termed "heavy" European pressure on Israel to extend the self-imposed 10- month moratorium on settlement construction.

EU ministers "only want to come to talk about the settlement freeze and the peace process," the official told the newspaper.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had originally invited top diplomats from Britain, Germany and Italy in order to update them on the status of Israeli aid to the Gaza Strip.

A senior government source close to the Foreign Ministry told Xinhua, however, that the EU "would continue to play a constructive role" in peacemaking and that they were not aware of the story or any change in the planned visit.



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