Netanyahu to defend settlements at Obama summit
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will defend expanding Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank when he meets U.S. President Barack Obama and the Palestinian leader, his spokesman said on Monday, Reuters reported.
"You have never heard the prime minister say he would freeze settlement building. The opposite is true," Nir Hefetz told Israel's Army Radio when asked about Tuesday's three-way summit during the U.N. General Assembly in New York, where differences over settlement building have limited expectations of a result.
"There are some politicians ... who see halting building or ceding national territory or harming the settlements in Judea and Samaria as an asset, something that can help Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu cannot be counted among those people."
Using Israel's term for the West Bank, he added: "He sees the settlements in Judea and Samaria as a Zionist enterprise and the settlers in Judea and Samaria as his -- our -- brothers."
Some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and in Arab East Jerusalem, captured in a 1967 war, alongside three million Palestinians. The World Court calls the settlements illegal and Palestinians say the enclaves could deny them a viable state.
Israel signed up to a U.S.-backed peace plan in 2003, called the "road map". It required a halt to building in the Jewish settlements that Palestinians say are eating away at the viability of a future state in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
While Netanyahu has been under the heaviest U.S. pressure on Israel in years, he insists settlers should be allowed to continue building as their families grow and rules out any discussion on sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinians.
Israeli officials have said Netanyahu last week offered Obama's envoy George Mitchell a 9-month freeze in building in the West Bank but Washington wanted a one-year freeze in order to persuade Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resume peace negotiations that were suspended in December.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Obama's personal intervention was welcome.
"For the last eight months, the clear message from the international community has been that both sides need to meet their obligations" to create the environment for talks to resume, he said. "Palestinians strongly support this position."
Israel cannot "haggle its way out of" commitments, Erekat added in a statement. A settlement freeze was an Israeli obligation, he said, not a Palestinian precondition.