Rassegna Stampa Elezioni Israeliane 2009

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Israel Hopes for U.S. Settlement Shift

Posted by claudiacampli su 27 maggio, 2009

IHT

By ISABEL KERSHNER

Published: May 27, 2009

JERUSALEM — The Israeli government wants to reach understandings with the Obama administration that would allow some new construction in West Bank settlements, an Israeli official said Wednesday, despite vocal American and Palestinian opposition. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, was expected to focus on the issue of settlement expansion in his meeting with President Obama in their meeting scheduled for Thursday in Washington. Mr. Abbas and other Palestinian leaders have stated repeatedly that they see no point in resuming stalled peace negotiations without an absolute settlement freeze. President Barack Obama and other senior American officials have called on the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud Party who came into office almost two months ago, to halt all settlement activity. Dan Meridor, the Israeli minister of intelligence, and other senior Netanyahu aides returned on Wednesday from meetings in Europe with President Obama’s Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, and other American officials. The purpose was to continue discussing issues raised in last week’s Netanyahu-Obama meeting, including that Mr. Obama’s objections to settlement expansion. Almost 300,000 Israelis now live in settlements in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, among a Palestinian population of some 2.5 million. Much of the world considers the 120 or so settlements a violation of international law. Mr. Netanyahu says that his government will not build any new settlements and will take down a number of outposts erected in recent years by settlers without proper government authorization. But he insists that his government will allow building within existing settlements to accommodate what he termed “natural growth,” essentially continuing the policy of the last few Israeli governments. Israel says it reached understandings with the Bush administration — some formal, some informal and some tacit — on building within settlements. For example, construction was limited in small, outlying settlements but more tolerated in large ones in areas that Israel intends to keep under any deal with the Palestinians. “We want to work to reach understandings with the new administration” that are “fair” and “workable,” said the Israeli official. He was speaking on condition of anonymity because the issue was still under discussion. The Obama administration is seeking a settlement freeze in the hope of improving the environment for peace-making, encouraging gestures toward normalizing ties with Israel from Arab governments, and buttressing a coalition of countries opposed to Iran developing nuclear weapons. But there is a consensus within the Israeli government that the ever-growing settler population must be accommodated. Mark Regev, a spokesman for Mr. Netanyahu, said the final status of the existing settlements would be determined in negotiations with the Palestinians. “In the interim, normal life should be allowed to continue in those communities,” Mr. Regev said. In an interview with Army Radio on Monday, Ehud Barak, the defense minister and leader of the center-left Labor Party, gave a hypothetical example of a family of four that originally moved into a two-room home in a settlement. “Now there are six children,” he said. “Should they be allowed to build another room or not?” He added, “Ninety-five percent of people will tell you it cannot be that someone in the world honestly thinks an agreement with the Palestinians will stand or fall over this.” In an effort to show goodwill, Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Barak have been underscoring their willingness to take down 22 small outposts that are illegal under Israeli law, and which were supposed to have been removed under the 2003 American-backed peace plan known as the road map. That plan specified that Israel should halt “all settlement activity (including natural growth).” Mr. Barak has said he will try to remove the small outposts by agreement with the settlers, and if agreement is not reached, then by force. Settlers have vowed to rebuild any outpost that is removed and to create more. In the early hours of Wednesday morning, the police removed some sheds and a tent from two tiny outposts in the Hebron area. Another small outpost was demolished in the Ramallah region last week, but new shacks have already appeared there. None of the three outposts were on the list of 22, but the measures against them prompted furious reactions from the hard right. Many religious Jewish nationalists say it is their right to settle in the biblical heartland of the West Bank, which they refer to as Judea and Samaria. Other Israelis cite security reasons for holding on to the areas captured in the 1967 war. Another point of contention between the Israeli government and the Obama administration is Mr. Netanyahu’s refusal to publicly endorse a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a cornerstone of American policy. At a conference on Tuesday in the Israeli Parliament on alternatives to end the conflict, a Likud minister and former army chief of staff, Moshe Ya’alon, said the peace process based on the two-state paradigm had failed and that it was time for new ways of thinking. The conference was organized by a Likud parliamentarian, Tzipi Hotovely.

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