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Israel rubbishes Obama call to halt settlements

Sunday, June 07, 2009, Agencies


Children attend a protest against the Israeli separation wall in the village of Maasarah, near the West Bank town of Bethlehem, on Friday. (EPA)

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Jerusalem: In complete defiance to US President Barack Obama’s powerful appeal to halt settlement activity in the Palestinian territory, officials said yesterday that Israel would not heed to halt work on lands the Palestinians claim for a future state.


The government plans to allow construction inside existing West Bank settlements to accommodate growing families (a policy dubbed “natural growth”), said the officials, explaining a position that looks sure to cause a serious policy clash with the United States.


Meanwhile, Jewish occupiers yesterday built a new settlement outpost in the West Bank.


Israeli Radio said that occupiers built the new outpost near Kokhav Yaakov settlement to the north of Jerusalem and cynically called it Givat Obama, or Obama Hilltop.


The radio quoted the occupiers as saying that the name is “in recognition of the president’s actions, which have led to a dramatic increase in the number of outposts being built throughout the West Bank.”


The government officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to go beyond the formal response, said that instead of halting all settlement activity, Israel planned to take down 22 unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank in the coming weeks. That balancing act — taking down outposts while pressing ahead with so-called “natural growth” construction in the settlements — is not likely to go down well in Washington.


Meanwhile, prodding the international community in Germany, Obama yesterday called “for all of us to redouble our efforts” toward a two-state solution. The president announced he was dispatching special envoy George J. Mitchell back to the region next week to follow up on his speech in Cairo. Alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel following his Mideast trip, Obama said: “The United States can’t force peace upon the parties.” But he said America has “at least created the space, the atmosphere, in which talks can restart.”


The president urged Palestinians and Arab neighbors to do their part by making “tough choices” to defuse the situation in the region.


Merkel said she believed Obama’s efforts could make headway toward a two-state solution. “I believe that with the new American administration, with President Barack Obama, there is actually a unique opportunity now to see to it that this peace process — or let’s perhaps be more careful — this negotiation process to be revived again,” she said.


Meanwhile, the chief Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat said that 40 percent of West Bank is “under the control of the empire of Jewish settlers.” Erekat added the “ongoing settlement activities contradict the international law and legitimacy.” (Arab News)


— With input from Mohammed Mar’i







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