Washington called off a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US Middle East envoy because of Israel’s refusal to halt settlement growth, an Israeli newspaper said yesterday.
The mass-selling Yediot Aharonot, quoting an unnamed Israeli official, said that Washington issued a “stern” message to Netanyahu to halt all settlement activity on occupied Palestinian land, including so-called “natural growth” within existing settlements.
“Once you’ve finished the homework we gave you on stopping construction in the settlements, let us know. Until then, there’s no point in having [US Middle East envoy George] Mitchell fly to Paris to meet you,” the official described Washington as saying.
The meeting with Mitchell was to take place in Paris during Netanyahu’s first visit to Europe since taking office earlier this year at the head of a hawkish right-wing government.
An Israeli official said Mitchell would instead meet Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday in Washington.
“This delay will enable us to throw light on topical questions which are now hanging in the air and have not been resolved,” the official said on Tuesday, without elaborating.
In recent weeks Washington has ramped up pressure on Netanyahu’s government to halt all settlement activity in the occupied West Bank as part of efforts to relaunch the Middle East peace process.
The Palestinians have said they will not meet Netanyahu until Israel halts all settlement activity, and the presence of some 280,000 Israelis in more than 100 settlements across the territory has been seen as a major obstacle to peace efforts.
Netanyahu has vowed not to build new settlements, but said he would allow for “natural growth” within existing settlements, including the main settlement blocs Israel expects to keep in any future peace deal.
But US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last month that US President Barack Obama had made it clear during Netanyahu’s visit to Washington that he wants no “natural growth exceptions” to his call for a settlement freeze.
The international community considers all settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, which Israel seized in the 1967 Six Day war, to be illegal.