Building halt temporary - Netanyahu


ISRAELI PRIME minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will resume building at West Bank settlements after a 10-month moratorium even if the Palestinians renew peace talks.

Addressing ministers of his right-wing Likud party, Mr Netanyahu made it clear that the construction freeze, announced last month, was a temporary measure.

“Even if Abu Mazen [Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas] will come in eight months and say, ‘Peace now’, we will begin building as we did before. The cabinet decision is time-limited,” the prime minister said.

Israel declared the construction freeze as a goodwill gesture in an effort to jump start the stalled bilateral peace talks with the Palestinians.

The move, which did not include east Jerusalem and some 3,000 units already under construction in the West Bank, was welcomed by Washington but criticised by the Palestinians as falling short of the total halt they demanded as a pre-condition for restarting the negotiations.

Mr Netanyahu told the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem yesterday that the building restrictions were “painful”, but showed that Israel was serious about peace.

“It is clear who wants peace and who rejects peace,” Mr Netanyahu said. “The state of Israel wants peace in the clearest possible fashion.”

He called on settlers to show restraint, saying that the freeze would help Israel in the international arena.

Israeli security sources said yesterday that it was believed settlers burned a Palestinian home and two vehicles close to the West Bank’s largest city, Nablus, to avenge the building freeze.

Settlers are refusing to co-operate with the moratorium, and there have been daily confrontations over the last week with residents trying to block government building inspectors entering the settlements. The defence ministry has hired dozens of additional inspectors in an effort to enforce the new restrictions.

This week settlers are planning a mass rally in Jerusalem and have also threatened to block major roads as the campaign against the building restrictions moves up a gear. The settlers’ council has urged residents not to report for army reserve duty as long as the restrictions remain in force.

The largest Jewish council in the West Bank, the Binyamin council, situated north of Jerusalem, urged residents to begin mass construction to make the inspectors’ task impossible.