Israel PM rules out complete settlement freeze
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday ruled out a complete freeze in settlement activity as demanded by the US and said talks with Washington were ongoing over how long any halt would last, AFP reported.
"The Palestinians are expecting a complete freeze in construction and it is clear that this will not happen," a senior official quoted Netanyahu as telling parliament's foreign affairs and defence committee.
Speaking a day before he was to meet US Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell, the hawkish premier said there was still no agreement with Washington on how long any halt in settlement construction would last.
"The reduction of construction will only be temporary and there is no agreement yet with the Americans on how long it will last."
Netanyahu also reiterated that building would continue in Arab east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed following the 1967 Six Day War in a move not recognised by the international community.
"Jerusalem is not a settlement and construction there will continue as normal," he said.
Israel sees Jerusalem as its "eternal, undivided" capital, while the Palestinians want to make the annexed eastern sector the capital of their promised state.
Washington has for months been pressing Israel to stop settlement activity in the whole of the occupied West Bank including east Jerusalem in order to jumpstart the stalled peace process.
The Palestinians have demanded an Israeli settlement freeze in order to resume peace negotiations that were suspended in late December amid Israel's war in Gaza.