Israel has started building at least 544 apartments since a 10-month construction freeze expired late last month. Palestinians charge that construction in the settlements is aimed at preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the issue has brought recently renewed US-brokered peace talks to a halt. In a statement, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace Robert Serry called the construction activity “alarming,” saying it is “illegal under international law” and “will only further undermine trust.”
Israel’s partial settlement moratorium expired late last month, despite calls from the diplomatic Quartet—the UN, US, EU and Russia—to renew it. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has indicated he will not continue with talks unless Israel freezes settlement activity. Israel will only stop its disputed settlement building when the Palestinians make a peace agreement, its UN ambassador Meron Reuben said ahead of new Security Council talks on the Middle East conflict this week.
“People understand,” Reuben told AFP. “I don’t think they agree with the way we are going, but they definitely understand the fact that settlements are not a burden on the peace process and not something that will stop the peace process.”
Addressing the Knesset at a session to mark the 15th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the partial settlement freeze was a temporary “gesture.” He said that construction in existing West Bank settlements “does not contradict the aspiration for peace and an agreement.”
Netanyahu further said a Palestinian state must recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The prime minister quoted from Rabin’s final speech to the Knesset, in which he said, “We are convinced that a binational state will not be able to fulfill the Jewish role of the State of Israel, which is the state of the Jews.”
However, Netanyahu revived a previous offer Oct. 18, saying he would support a new settlement freeze if Palestinians would recognize Israel as a Jewish state. (The Telegraph, Xinhua, Oct. 22; AFP, Ma’an News Agency, Oct. 16; CSM, Oct. 12)
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