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Erekat: Freeze on govt settlements 'false distinction'

Oct. 22, 2011 3:00 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 24, 2011 10:44 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- PLO official Saeb Erekat has rejected the distinction between government and private construction in Israeli settlements, the premise of Israel's "offer" for a partial building freeze reported by Israeli media on Friday.

As all settlement building on Palestinian lands is illegal under international law, differentiating public and private-led expansion is a "false distinction," a statement from the former chief negotiator said on Friday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed to freeze government settlement construction in an offer put to President Mahmoud Abbas by Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin on Wednesday, the Israeli daily Haaretz and a Palestinian official said.

Private construction constitutes around 80 percent of settlement activity, according to recent studies.

"Looting is not made legal under any circumstance," Erekat said. "Attempting to draw such false distinctions exposes the true intentions of the Israeli government."

Diplomats are trying to renew direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials as the UN Security Council considers Palestine's application for full membership of the global body, which Israel and the US have vowed to scupper.

A Quartet proposal aired on Sept. 23 -- as Abbas handed the bid to UN officials -- has faltered as the deadline it set for a preliminary meeting within one month passed without an appointment.

Days later, Netanyahu told Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post that Palestinian insistence on a settlement halt was a "pretext" to avoid talks, and implied that a new settlement freeze was unlikely.

"We already gave at the office," Netanyahu told the Post, referring to a 10-month partial settlement freeze that Israel refused to renew in late September 2010, leading to the breakdown of direct talks launched weeks earlier.

Palestinian officials say they cannot negotiate with Israel while it builds on lands needed for the viability of a future Palestinian state.

On Sept. 27, Israel approved the construction of 1,100 new homes in Gilo settlement, and in early October started building 11 units as part of a 300-home project in Pisgat Zeev settlement, both in East Jerusalem.

An Israeli peace group also revealed in October that Israel has formally submitted plans to build 2,610 homes near Gilo, including new neighborhood Givat Hamotos, which will cut off Bethlehem and the West Bank from East Jerusalem's southern sector.

East Jerusalem was annexed by Israeli in a 1967 war, in a move never recognized by the international community. Israel claims Jerusalem as its undivided capital, while Palestinians say the occupied east must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

"Might does not make right. We will not compromise our positions based on the power politics of the day," Erekat said Friday. "International law has been, and will continue to be, the basis for our positions on this and all other issues."
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