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Report: US dropped demands for East J'lem settlement freeze

Aug. 27, 2009 11:12 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 28, 2009 9:27 A.M.)
Bethlehem – Ma’an – The US has dropped a demand that Israel freeze settlement construction in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian capital, an Israeli newspaper reported on Thursday.

The newspaper Haaretz, citing Israeli officials and Western diplomats, reported that US envoy George Mitchell capitulated to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal during their meeting in London on Wednesday.

US President Barack Obama and his administration have been pressuring Israel to freeze settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories in order to create conditions for renewed peace negotiations. State Department officials have said in the past that their demand includes East Jerusalem.

Israeli occupied and then annexed East Jerusalem during the June 1967 war. Palestinians and the international community do not recognize the legitimacy of Israeli control in the eastern half of the city.

According to Haaretz, Netanyahu offered Mitchell a nine-month freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank excluding Jerusalem. In addition, Netanyahu wants to exclude 2,500 housing units on which construction has already started, and the construction of schools and other structures in the settlements.

In addition, the newspaper said, Israel is demanding that the Palestinian Authority and Arab states make their own concessions in exchange for a freeze. If these measures are not take, the report says, Israel wants guarantees that the US will not oppose an end to the freeze and further settlement construction.

At the end of the London meeting Netanyahu and Mitchell issued a brief Joint Statement saying that they “had a very productive meeting today where the full range of issues was discussed.”

“They agreed on the importance of restarting meaningful negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and working toward a comprehensive peace, and that all sides need to take concrete steps toward peace,” the statement continues.

“The Prime Minister and the Senator [Mitchell] made good progress today, and an Israeli delegation will meet Senator Mitchell next week in the United States to continue the conversation,” the statement concluded.

Two of Netanyahu’s aides are due to continue negotiations with Mitchell in Washington next week. Mitchell is also reportedly scheduled to travel to Israel in the second week of September in hopes of finalizing a deal on settlements.
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