Negotiations and the Israeli settlements

Independent:

President Barack Obama last night stepped up the pressure on Israel by declaring that the Jewish state must "stop" its settlements, even after it had rejected a demand from Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, for a comprehensive settlements freeze.

Speaking after an Oval Office meeting with the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Mr Obama said Israel had an obligation of halting the settlement programme, which both he and Mr Abbas say is an essential pre-condition for a meaningful resumption of talks about a Middle East peace agreement.

But the already slim prospects of a breakthrough were dealt a severe new blow yesterday as Israel bluntly rejected the call, only hours before yesterday's White House meeting. Speaking in Jerusalem, Mark Regev, the Israeli government spokesman, said the internal or so-called "natural growth" of settlements would continue, and their fate would only be decided as part of the final negotiations for an overall peace agreement.

Israel's stance is fresh evidence of the tensions between the new administration in Washington and the government of the hard-line Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is not only reluctant to rein back settlements but who refused to endorse even the concept of a two-state solution that had been embraced by his most recent predecessors. Mr Obama nonetheless reiterated his belief that Israel would come to realise such an arrangement was in its national interest.

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I think the Israeli position is the more rational one. Why should they give up something for nothing? When you consider that the Palestinians have nothing of value to offer the Israelis, why should they get a freebe before they even start. I still do not think that a negotiated settlement is desirable or necessary at this point for the Israelis. The Palestinians have neither the will or the means to offer peace to Israel in return for statehood. When you throw into that mix that Hamas just wants a truce long enough for them to develop the ability to destroy Israel, there is even less incentive for a deal.

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