09/16/2010, 00.00
ISRAEL – PALESTINE

Jewish settlements in West Bank and East Jerusalem hindering Israeli-Palestinian talks

Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to leave negotiations if settlement activity does not stop. Freeze on new construction is set to expire in ten days. Netanyahu refuses to extend freeze, claiming security is Israel’s top priority.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – The construction of 2,000 new housing units for Jews in the West Bank and East Jerusalem could once again derail peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians currently underway in Jerusalem.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday threatened to walk away from the negotiating table if Israel does not extend its settlement freeze for another three months as proposed recently by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who met the Palestinian leader today in Ramallah.

Agreed in 2009, the freeze was theoretically meant to last for ten months and is now set to expire on 26 September.

Despite US pressures, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he would not extend the freeze any further; he did however state that he would cut the number of new housing units. Security, he said, is Israel’s priority at present.

For now, differences between the parties will not stop talks, at least until next week.

In the meantime, clashes continue in the Gaza Strip. A Palestinian died near Rafah (south of Gaza) yesterday after Israeli forces launched a raid against a tunnel used to smuggle goods into the territory. The action came in the wake of two rockets fired by Hamas into Israeli territory.

After 20 months of stalemate, the latest round of peace talks began on 2 September, with the two sides currently meeting in Jerusalem, the first time since Israeli rightwing leader Benjamin Netanyahu came to power.

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