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Israel minister proposes partial West Bank annexation

Dec. 8, 2013 11:11 A.M. (Updated: Dec. 11, 2013 9:47 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Economy Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday proposed that Israel annex parts of the West Bank under its full military control where most Jewish settlers live.

"I favor implementation of Israeli sovereignty over the zone where 400,000 (settlers) live and only 70,000 Arabs," said the head of the far-right Jewish Home religious party in the ruling coalition.

Bennett also ridiculed the US-brokered peace talks between Israel and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, whose writ covers the West Bank but not Gaza, ruled by the Islamist movement Hamas.

"This is all a joke. It's as if we're discussing the purchase of a car with only half of its owners," he told public radio.

In another negative Israeli assessment of the peace process, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Saturday: "There is no partner on the Palestinian side to reach a two-state solution for two peoples."

Their views contrasted with a statement by US Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday at the end of his latest mission to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

"I believe we are closer than we have been in years to bringing about the peace and the prosperity and the security that all of the people of this region deserve," Kerry told reporters.

Direct negotiations were launched in late July but have made little apparent progress as they approach the half-way mark of a targeted nine months.

Palestinian leaders have consistently lamented the continued construction of Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands during the peace talks, citing the Israeli failure to halt their construction as a major impediment to any future agreement that ensures Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank.

In November, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to build 20,000 new homes in settlements, in a major blow to the peace process. Although these plans were ostensibly later withdrawn, on Dec. 1 Knesset member Tibi said they were in fact still in effect.

More than 500,000 Israeli settlers live in settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, in contravention of international law.

The internationally recognized Palestinian territories of which the West Bank and East Jerusalem form a part have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report
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