BBC | 22 October 2010 | 03:58 GMT
Jewish settlers have started building more than 600 homes in the West Bank since a building freeze expired last month, an Israeli pressure group says. The pace of building was four times faster than before the restrictions were put in place, Peace Now said. Palestinian negotiators have threatened to walk out of the recently resumed direct peace talks with Israel unless the construction freeze is reinstated.
A UN envoy criticised Israel over the report, describing it as "alarming". Robert Serry, the UN Special Co-ordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said building on occupied land was illegal under international law and would "only further undermine trust" in the peace process.
A spokesman for Peace Now, Yariv Oppenheimer, told the BBC that more details on the new homes being built by settlers would be released in a report on Monday. Another official from the group, Hagit Ofran, added, "I estimate that work has started at about 600 housing units [since the end of the construction freeze], and I’m looking to complete the survey in order to know the exact number, and it is [at] different stages of construction. In some places, it is only levelling the ground that has started and in others, it’s the very foundation that is now being dug."
A separate count by the Associated Press estimated that ground had been broken on at least 544 new West Bank homes since 26 September, when Israel lifted its 10-month freeze on most new settlement building in the West Bank. Palestinian Authority spokesperson Ghassan Khatib said the figure was "alarming and is another indicator that Israel is not serious about the peace process, which is supposed to be about ending the occupation".
But Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev said Israel wanted to "proceed to move forward in the peace process and all the difficult issues, all the core issues of the conflict are on the table, including the sensitive issue of settlements.
"In the interim, the limited construction under way will in no way impact upon the final contours of a peace agreement. Ultimately, it’s not about settlements, it’s about reaching a historic peace settlement," he added. An organisation representing Jewish settlers told the BBC they were not counting houses and the settlements needed to grow at a "natural pace".
AP | Yahoo | 11/07/2010 | 03:18 pm
The Palestinian president, who is under U.S. pressure to resume direct talks with Israel, said that doing so under current circumstances would be pointless. The remarks by Mahmoud Abbas underline his determination not to return to the table unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commits to an internationally mandated settlement freeze and agrees to pick up talks where they left off under the Israeli leader’s predecessor in Dec. 2008. Netanyahu hasn’t agreed to either demand, and has so far curbed but not frozen settlement activity. He insists negotiations should be held without any preconditions. President Barack Obama called Abbas last week, following the U.S. president’s meeting with Netanyahu. The White House said Obama and Abbas talked about ways to revive direct talks soon.
"We have presented our vision and thoughts and said that if progress is made, we will move to direct talks, but that if no progress is made, it (direct negotiations) will be futile," Abbas said in a speech late Saturday. "If they (the Israelis) say `come and let’s start negotiations from zero,’ that is futile and pointless," Abbas added. The Palestinians say they that after 17 years of intermittent talks, they don’t want to start all over again, especially with an Israeli leader who has retreated from positions presented by his predecessors. In the absence of direct talks, a U.S. envoy has been shuttling between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in recent weeks. Abbas’ aide Yasser Abed Rabbo told Palestinian radio Sunday that the Palestinians don’t want to enter open-ended negotiations with Israel. "There must be a … timetable, a framework for these negotiations," he said. "We will not enter new negotiations that could take more than 10 years."
Bloomberg | Jul 6, 2010
President Barack Obama meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today at a moment when U.S.-Israeli ties are improving. Further warming may depend on whether Israel extends a settlement-building freeze due to expire in September. The U.S. sided with Israel in the face of international criticism following its raid on a Gaza aid flotilla in May and persuaded the United Nations to impose additional sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program last month. Those actions helped reverse a downturn in relations that developed over Israel’s plan to build 1,600 new homes in east Jerusalem. Dan Shapiro, senior director at the White House for the Middle East and North Africa, told reporters last week that the freeze on building new homes in West Bank settlements, announced by Netanyahu on Nov. 25, has helped advance efforts toward the goal of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
“There has been a distinct improvement in the White House relationship with Israel since the last meeting” between Obama and Netanyahu on March 23, said Jonathan Spyer, a political scientist at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. “Obama will be looking for a payback,” perhaps in the form of an extension to the settlement freeze, Spyer said. The stakes are potentially high for both leaders. Obama has expended political capital on reviving the peace negotiations, beginning with indirect talks intended to lead toward direct ones — something that aides to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas say won’t happen unless Israel halts all settlement building. Netanyahu could lose his parliamentary majority if he extends the settlement freeze beyond the Sept. 26 expiration.
The Obama administration is “very keen to see the moratorium extended,” said Roger Danin, a senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “That’s a very difficult issue they will probably not be able to resolve during this visit.” Shapiro said the focus of the discussion between the leaders would be “on making that transition into direct talks” and on what has been covered through the indirect talks. U.S. officials say that relations between the two countries have improved considerably since March, when Israel’s announcement of the east Jerusalem housing plan in the midst of a visit by Vice President Joe Biden drew criticism from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “There’s absolutely no rift between the United States and Israel,” said Ben Rhodes, a U.S. deputy national security adviser. “This is a relationship that is very strong and very important to the United States.”
BBC News | Friday, 30 April 2010 | 19:15 GMT
Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks are set to start next week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says. Mrs. Clinton told reporters in Washington that US special envoy George Mitchell would be returning to the region next week. Plans to launch the indirect negotiations failed last month over a row about Israeli plans to build 1,600 homes in occupied East Jerusalem. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been stalled since 2008. "We will be starting with proximity talks next week," Mrs. Clinton said. "Ultimately we want to see parties in direct negotiations and working out all the difficult issues that they must." Washington expected that Arab foreign ministers meeting on Saturday would endorse the new talks, she added. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said: "We are making every possible effort to begin these talks. But the official decision will be made by the Arab foreign ministers and the PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organisation] executive committee." Israeli officials have not publicly commented on Mrs. Clinton’s remarks.
The US has been struggling to get the proximity talks under way. These were knocked off course by an announcement in March that Israel had approved plans for the new homes in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo during a visit to Israel by US Vice-President Joe Biden. The Palestinians – who want East Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state – then pulled out of the scheduled indirect talks last month in protest. Mr Mitchell’s team has been actively trying to extract guarantees from the Israelis to bring the Palestinians back to the proposed talks.
BBC NEWS | Friday, 23 April 2010 | 13:29 GMT
US Middle East envoy George Mitchell is meeting Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the hope of ending a row over Israeli building in East Jerusalem. Mr Mitchell met Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, on his first visit since the disagreement scuppered planned indirect peace talks. Reports suggested Israel may be willing to make several gestures to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiations. But Israel’s PM has stressed he will not stop building in East Jerusalem. Ahead of his meeting with Mr Mitchell, Mr Netanyahu said Israel was "serious" about trying to advance peace, and hoped the Palestinians would "respond". Mr Mitchell stressed the "unbreakable bond" between the US and Israel. Officials said the two would meet again on Sunday, after Mr Mitchell has met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas later on Friday.
The Palestinians pulled out of the scheduled "proximity talks" last month after Israel approved a plan for 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians want the capital of their future state. That announcement, as US Vice-President Joe Biden was visiting to launch the negotiations, triggered a crisis in relations between Israel and its greatest ally, Washington. A planned visit by Mr Mitchell in March was cancelled. The US has requested that Israel make a series of moves, which have not been officially made public, to reassure the Palestinians. As Mr Mitchell arrived, Mr Netanyahu stressed in a television interview that he would not yield to US pressure to completely halt building in the occupied East of Jerusalem. "I am saying one thing: there will be no freeze in Jerusalem," he said. But on Thursday, the Wall Street Journal
BBC News | Friday, 2 April 2010 01:49 | 00:49 GMT
Israeli planes have carried out 13 air strikes on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources have told the BBC. Four of the strikes took place near the town of Khan Younis, where two Israeli soldiers were killed in clashes with Palestinian fighters last week. The Israeli military has told the BBC the operation was targeting four weapons factories. The strikes are the most serious for more than a year, says the BBC’s Jon Donnison from Jerusalem. The director of ambulance and emergency in the Palestinian Ministry of Health, Dr Muawiya Hassanein, said that three children including an infant were slightly injured by flying debris. Witnesses and Hamas officials said the Israeli raids targeted metal workshops, farms, a milk factory and small sites belonging to the military wing of Hamas.
"Israel will not tolerate terroristic activity inside Gaza that threatens Israeli citizens," the Israeli military said in a statement released to the BBC. Palestinian news agencies reported that Israeli aircraft dropped leaflets over parts of Gaza on Thursday warning residents of retaliation for last Friday’s killings of the soldiers in Khan Younis. They were the first Israeli soldiers to be killed in hostile fire in Gaza in over a year. The military wing of Hamas claim responsibility for those attacks. Hamas said police stations and training facilities were among the targets of Israel’s overnight raids.
Tensions in the region are running high after a recent Israeli government announcement of plans to build 1,600 new homes for Jewish people in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as a capital of a future state. Militants in the Gaza Strip have recently stepped up rocket fire directed at Israel. On Wednesday, they fired a rocket into an empty field in southern Israel, but there were no reports of casualties or damage, military sources said.
BBC NEWS | 2010/03/26 | 10:36:32 GMT
The Israeli prime minister says his policy on Jerusalem will not change – a sign that a row with the US over settlement building remains unresolved. Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement came as he was due to brief cabinet colleagues on talks with President Barack Obama. The US says some progress was made. The row is over Israeli plans to build 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem, where the Palestinians want their capital. After the announcement they pulled out of planned US-mediated peace talks. Israel insists the Jerusalem will remain its undivided capital. Nearly half a million Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. They are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.
The row over Israel’s plans for homes in East Jerusalem has caused one of the worst crises in US-Israeli ties for decades. Israel unveiled the plans to build in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ramat Shlomo during a visit by US Vice-President Joe Biden – a move which Washington initially branded an insult. Hours before Mr Netanyahu’s meeting with Mr Obama on Tuesday, it emerged that the Jerusalem municipal government had approved another development in occupied East Jerusalem. The White House has been trying to persuade Mr Netanyahu to commit to several trust-building measures to revive hopes for indirect "proximity talks" between Israel and the Palestinians.
Israeli media reports say Mr Netanyahu told the US president he needed to consult with his cabinet, which includes far-right wingers who are strongly opposed to the division of Jerusalem, before reaching agreement. "The prime minister’s position is that there is no change in Israel’s