Senior members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet
reiterated Sunday that the government has rejected a U.S. demand to
halt all activity in West Bank settlements, despite strongly-worded
demands from the Obama administration to do so.
"I want to make it clear that the current Israeli government will not
accept in any way the freezing of legal settlement activity in Judea
and Samaria [West Bank," Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz told
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Eli Yishai of Shas told his fellow
cabinet ministers Sunday that the U.S. demand on settlement activity
was tantamount to "expulsion."
President Barack Obama and his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton,
have both made very public calls for Israel to institute a total
freeze on construction in all West Bank settlements. Tensions between
Washington and Jerusalem have been growing as a result.
Israeli political officials have accused the administration of taking
a preferential line toward the Palestinians on this issue.
Some officials expressed disappointment after Tuesday's round of
meetings in London with George Mitchell, Obama's envoy to the Middle
East. "We're disappointed," said one senior official. "All of the
understandings reached during the [George W.] Bush administration are
Another official said the U.S. administration is refusing every
Israeli attempt to reach new agreements on settlement construction.
"The United States is taking a line of granting concessions to the
Palestinians that is not fair toward Israel," he said.
The Israeli officials attributed the unyielding U.S. stance to the speech
Obama will make in Cairo this Thursday, in which he is expected to
deliver a message of reconciliation to the Arab and Muslim worlds.
Mitchell was joined at the London talks by his deputy David Hale,
Daniel B. Shapiro (the head of the National Security Council's Middle
East desk), and State Department deputy legal adviser Jonathan
The Israeli delegation consisted of National Security Adviser Uzi Arad,
Netanyahu diplomatic envoy Yitzhak Molcho, Defense Ministry chief of
staff Mike Herzog and deputy prime minister Dan Meridor.
Herzog spoke to Mitchell and his staff about understandings reached by
former prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon with the Bush
administration on allowing continued building in the large West Bank
settlement blocs. He asked that a similar agreement be reached with
the Obama government.
Meridor spoke of the complexities characterizing the coalition headed
by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and said Washington's demands of
a complete construction freeze would lead to the dissolution of the
The Israeli delegates were stunned by the uncompromising U.S. stance,
and by statements from Mitchell and his staff that agreements reached
with the Bush administration were unacceptable. An Israeli official
privy to the talks said that "the Americans took something that had
been agreed on for many years and just stopped everything."
"What about the Tenet Report, which demanded that the Palestinians
dismantle the terror infrastructure?" said the official, referring to
former CIA director George Tenet. "It's unfair, and there is no
reciprocity shown toward the Palestinians."
The Israeli envoys said the demand for a total settlement freeze was
not only unworkable, but would not receive High Court sanction.
Tensions reportedly reached a peak when, speaking of the Gaza
disengagement, the Israelis told their interlocutors, "We evacuated
8,000 settlers on our own initiative," to which Mitchell responded
simply, "We've noted that here."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak will travel to Washington on Sunday in an
attempt to put further pressure on the Obama administration.
"We want to reach an agreement with the United States on ways to
advance the peace process," said a senior Jerusalem official. The U.S.
stance, he said, "will stall the process and bring about tension and
stagnation, which will hurt both Israel and the United States."
Barak Ravi, Haaretz Correspondent and News Agencies: Israeli
ministers: No West Bank settlement freeze