Israel: Enough Gestures to the Palestinians

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Israel is ready to revive negotiations with the Palestinians but without any more gestures or preconditions, Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said.

"The current government has made many gestures to the Palestinians, including removing roadblocks, the Bar Ilan speech, enabling the Fatah Central Committee to meet, and freezing the construction in Judea and Samaria for 10 months," Lieberman said during a speech at the Ariel University Center.

"There will be no more overtures, and we will not make another gesture or quarter gesture. Enough with the theatrics and the mediators. We are prepared for direct negotiations without any conditions or gestures. The ball is in the Palestinians' court. We must change our tune," Lieberman said.

Lieberman's comments follow Abbas' demand this week that the international community recognize a Palestinian state in all of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and Gaza Strip.

Abbas conditioned the resumption of talks with Israel on a complete settlement freeze in the disputed territories. He also criticized Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's 10-month settlement freeze saying it was not considered "a halt of settlement activity."

U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry said this week that settlement freeze falls short of its obligations under the 2003 Road Map peace plan.

Israel accepted the U.S.-backed plan but with a list of reservations, which included its intention to continue to allow what it called at the time "natural growth" in Jewish communities.

Netanyahu called for the settlement freeze stopped most of that. He said he agreed to the suspension as a means to woo the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.  It has caused a major uproar among Israelis, sparking clashes between building inspectors and police, who have been trying to enforce the building ban, and those opposed to the settlement freeze.

Most Israelis believe that Netanyahu's decision to implement the freeze was the result of intense pressure from U.S. President Barack Obama. Some say that Netanyahu was willing to agree to the freeze in order to win backing from Washington on measures to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Lieberman said that in practice Israel has already not been building for the last year and half, "so why pretend." But he also said it was clear that after 10 months, Israel would be "building again full force."

Some 300,000 Israelis live in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, which they consider to be part of the Land that God promised the Jewish people in the Bible.

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The Jerusalem Post and YNet news contributed to this report.

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