Israel says retain settlements in occupied W.Bank after Mitchell meeting
Israeli PM Netanyahu said he heard "interesting ideas" from a U.S. envoy on resuming peace talks with the Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he heard "interesting ideas" from a U.S. envoy on resuming peace talks with the Palestinians but gave no indication any significant progress had been made.
Minutes after meeting envoy George Mitchell, Netanyahu reaffirmed at the weekly cabinet session his intention, also voiced by previous Israeli prime ministers, to retain major settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank in any peace dea despite interntional calls.
"Today I heard some interesting ideas for renewing the (peace) process," the right-wing leader told the cabinet, without elaborating.
"I also expressed my hope that these new ideas will allow for the renewal of the process. Certainly if the Palestinians express a similar readiness, then we will find ourselves in a diplomatic process," Netanyahu said.
Mitchell, U.S. President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy, told Palestinian leaders on Friday they must resume talks with Israel if they want the U.S. help to achieve a peace treaty that creates a Palestinian state.
The Palestinians, who hope to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, refuse to talk until Israel stops all settlement construction in the territory it captured in a 1967 war. Negotiations have been suspended for the past 13 months because Ireli war on Gaza Strip.
In what he called a bid to restart talks, Netanyahu announced in November a housing-start freeze in West Bank settlements other than around Jerusalem for 10 months.
Despite U.S. pressure, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has not relented. Palestinian officials said Abbas and Mitchell would hold further talks later in the day in Amman.
Trees in illegal settlements
Netanyahu said that after the cabinet meeting he would plant trees to mark Israel's Arbour day in Maale Adumim near Jerusalem and Ariel in the central West Bank -- the two largest Israeli settlements -- and in the Etzion bloc near Bethlehem.
"This expresses the unity that exists within the nation about how important it is for these places to remain part of the State of Israel forever," he said. "I encourage all members of parliament to get out and plant in the (settlement) blocs in our land."
Previous Israeli governments have designated Maale Adumim, Ariel and the Etzion bloc as areas that Israel intends to keep in a future peace deal with the Palestinians that would entail territorial swaps.
The World Court has ruled that Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal. Many Jewish settlers claim a God-given right to the West Bank, which they call by the biblical names Judea and Samaria.
Reuters Last Mod: 25 Ocak 2010, 09:31