Building halt proves Israel wants peace - Benjamin Netanyahu
Israel's prime minister on Sunday criticized the Palestinians' rejection of his West Bank settlement freeze, saying it raised questions about their commitment to peace, AP reported.
Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet that the freeze, while painful, shows the world that Israel is serious about pursuing a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu announced the 10-month freeze on building new homes in West Bank settlements in an attempt to restart peace talks, which broke down a year ago.
The Palestinians say the Israeli move is not genuine, since it does not include east Jerusalem or 3,000 homes already under construction in the West Bank.
The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem as parts of a future independent state.
They say they will not resume talks until all settlement construction ceases.
While failing to please the Palestinians, the settlement freeze has also infuriated Jewish settlers and their backers in Netanyahu's hard-line coalition.
In new unrest Sunday, police said they were pelted with eggs when they tried to enter the settlement of Kedumim in the northern West Bank to search for unauthorized construction.
Speaking to his Cabinet, Netanyahu noted that he had met with settler leaders last week to try to ease tensions.
"This is not an easy decision for them (the settlers), it is not an easy decision for us," he said. "The decision was taken because we see it as serving the wider interests of Israel and today it is also clear - to whomever it was not yet clear already - who wants peace and who today is acting as if they are opposed to peace. The state of Israel wants peace in the clearest possible sense."
Seeking to calm the concerns of Israeli hard-liners, Netanyahu repeated his stance that the freeze is a "one-time, temporary decision," and that construction will continue in full afterward.
"This suspension is for its stated timeframe and not beyond. In the Cabinet decision, we made it clear that upon the conclusion of the period of suspension, construction will resume," Netanyahu said.
Some 300,000 settlers live in the West Bank, in addition to 180,000 Jewish Israelis living in east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed soon after.
The settlers have been struggling to regain their strength since Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, uprooting all 8,000 settlers who were living there.
The settlers perceive the construction freeze as a betrayal by Netanyahu, a former ally. At the same time, they are wary of being portrayed as violent extremists.