Bethelehm - Ma'an/Agencies - Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Thursday that the 10-month settlement freeze was simply a tactical move and not a real effort to stop settlement growth, Israeli media sources reported Friday.
"It is clear to everyone that in 10 months, we will be building again [in] full force; anyone who understands anything knows this," he told gathered settlers at a meeting in the West Bank settlement town of Ariel as quoted in the Israeli daily Haaretz.
"There will be no more overtures, and we will not make another gesture or quarter gesture. Enough with the theatrics and the mediators." Lieberman added in reference to the government statements in November proclaiming the move was meant to satisfy the Palestinian Authority demand that settlement construction halt before sides resumed peace talks.
Palestinians, however, balked at the unilateral Israeli move, since it was neither a full halt, nor did it apply to all the settlements in Palestinian lands. The order, in fact, applied to only settlements in what Israel terms the West Bank, which does not include East Jerusalem, annexed in 1967. Continuing settlement construction in that sensitive area made the move useless in terms of satisfying Palestinian concerns.
"We are prepared for direct negotiations without any conditions or gestures. The ball is in the Palestinians' court," Lieberman told Haaretz. Palestinians pulled out of talks as Israel started its war on Gaza in December last year, the PA demanded Israel freeze settlement construction in areas that would be a Palestinian state if the negotiations succeed, as an act proving their seriousness to go for a real solution.
On Wednesday, the Saudi newspaper Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat reported that Israeli Minister of Interior Elie Yashi will continue planning for settlement expansion and construction for several new housing units across the West Bank.
"The government has vowed to stop building for 10 months but its decision does not include settlement planning," Yashi said.
"The Ministry of Interior wants to be ready for the period following the freeze by implementing plans for expanding settlements in all parts of the West Bank and will including prioritizing residential areas near the border, known as settlement blocs, and those near Jewish holy sites in Hebron," he added according to Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat.
The Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority rejected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's offer to partially freeze settlement construction, particularly as east Jerusalem was not included in the moratorium.
On Thursday the UN envoy to the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry told the UN Security Council on Thursday that a partial slowdown on the expansion of West Bank settlements falls short of Israel’s obligations.
“Particularly as regards East Jerusalem, the policy falls considerably short of Israel's commitments under the Roadmap to freeze all settlement activity, including ‘natural growth’, and to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001,” Serry said.
The standstill continues to be met with fierce opposition from illegal West Bank settlers, who have impeded inspectors from carrying out the freeze, which has often led to clashes.
Last week, Lieberman said that Israel's settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are just a pretext for the Arab world to complain, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman insisted on Friday.
The foreign minister is himself a West Bank settler.
"In terms of facts, our settlements are just a pretext for the Arab world to complain," Lieberman told the Russian-language REKA radio. "As we all remember, settlements have not prevented us from signing a peace agreement with Egypt."
The official lives in the illegal West Bank settlement of Nokdim, near Bethlehem.