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Updated: November 26, 2009 08:37 IST

Israel announces 10-month freeze on West Bank settlements

PTI
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during a press conference in his Jerusalem office on Wednesday. Israel will halt construction in its West Bank settlements for 10 months, Netanyahu announced on Wednesday, in an effort to restart peace talks, but Palestinians rejected the freeze as insufficient because it did not include east Jerusalem.
AP Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during a press conference in his Jerusalem office on Wednesday. Israel will halt construction in its West Bank settlements for 10 months, Netanyahu announced on Wednesday, in an effort to restart peace talks, but Palestinians rejected the freeze as insufficient because it did not include east Jerusalem.

In a bid to kickstart stalled peace talks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a ten-month moratorium on new constructions in West Bank settlements, but failed to impress Palestinians who demanded a complete halt to such activities.

“This is not an easy step. It is a painful step, but we are taking it out of broad national security considerations with the goal of renewing negotiations to achieve peace with our neighbours, the Palestinians,” Mr. Netanyahu said at a press conference on Wednesday here after a meeting of the security cabinet approved his proposal.

“I hope that this decision will help launch meaningful negotiations to reach a historic peace agreement that would finally end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians,” the Israeli premier added.International pressure has been mounting on Israel to put an end on construction activities which has weakened West’s Palestinian ally President Mahmoud Abbas in his political fight against Islamist Hamas.

“We have been told by many of our friends that once Israel takes the first meaningful steps toward peace, the Palestinians and Arab states would respond,” Mr. Netanyahu stressed much to the displeasure of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which feel the move fails to satisfy their demands to restart peace negotiations.

“The Palestinian Authority rejects the partial stopping of settlement and calls for the complete cessation of settlement activities in the West Bank and in Jerusalem,” Saeb Erakat, the top Palestinian negotiator, said before Mr. Netanyahu’s official announcement.

The PA called upon U.S. President Barack Obama “to exert more pressure on Israel to completely stop settlements“.

Settlement building has been a key sticking point in US efforts to restart Middle East peace talks.The Palestinians say they will not return to the negotiating table without a complete halt to construction activities in disputed areas.

During the press conference, Mr. Netanyahu said that the “far-reaching and painful” move would not be implemented in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem, which is viewed by Israel as a separate issue to be discussed in a final status agreement with the Palestinians.

“We do not put any restrictions on building in our sovereign capital,” the hawkish Israeli premier said.The freeze applies only to new construction, meaning housing already underway will also continue.“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.

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