PM: No Freeze on Natural Growth

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is sticking by his decision to allow construction in existing Israeli communities (settlements) in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) to accommodate natural growth.

The prime minister's decision effectively rejects the U.S. administration's demand to halt all construction in "settlements," defined as territory that came under Israeli sovereignty during the 1967 Six-Day War, including neighborhoods in Jerusalem and cities such as Ariel and Ma'ale Adumim.

On Monday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak will meet with U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell in New York, followed later in the week by meetings with Vice President Joe Biden and National Security Advisor General James Jones.

Barak, too, has stated that an all-inclusive freeze on construction in Israeli cities and towns in Judea and Samaria is an unreasonable demand that the government will not sanction.

Monday's Jerusalem Post quoted a statement by former U.S. national security advisor Elliot Abrams, taken from an article he wrote for The Washington Post in April.

"For the past five years, Israel's government has largely adhered to guidelines that were discussed with the United States, but never formally adopted: that there would be no new settlements, no financial incentives for Israelis to move to settlements and no new construction except in already built-up areas. "[What were] the clear purpose of the guidelines? To allow for settlement growth in ways that minimized the impact on Palestinians," Abrams wrote.

According to Jerusalem Post senior political correspondent Herb Keinan, some Israeli officials believe the Obama administration's demands "run contrary to these guidelines," thereby voiding previous U.S. agreements with Israel.

If the Obama administration dismisses past U.S. government agreements with the Jewish state, then Israel likewise is not obligated to abide by previous commitments.

Whether Obama ultimately plans to use the settlement issue to distance the U.S. from Israel, perhaps to gain favor with the oil-rich Arab nations, is unclear at this time.

Some analysts believe that the President's upcoming speech in Cairo on June 7, meant as an outreach to the Muslim world, will provide some insight into the way he plans to relate to Israel.

Source: The Jerusalem Post


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