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Israeli settlers renew West Bank construction, maybe discreetly

09-27-2010 07:31 BJT

by Dave Bender

JERUSALEM, Sept. 26 (Xinhua) -- Israeli settler groups on Sunday ended a 10-month moratorium on construction in Jewish communities in the West Bank, with a well-publicized cornerstone- laying ceremony at the Revava settlement in the northern West Bank, near the Israeli city of Ariel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office on Sunday, however, reportedly asked the leadership of the settlement movement to keep a low profile in any activities celebrating the end of Israel's self-imposed settlement construction moratorium.

WEST BANK SETTLERS TO BUILD

Netanyahu called on the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria (YESHA) to behave in a "restrained and responsible manner," according to Israel Army radio.

The Prime Minister's Office has not said if Netanyahu will extend the freeze, or if any, to what extent, when the deadline expires at midnight.

While Netanyahu's words may have been heeded to a greater or lesser degree by the settler leadership who are anxious to create facts on the ground, some rank and file activists were contemptuous of the premier's call for restraint.

"I'm sure that they're going to tell us that we should breathe very quietly, or talk or walk quietly, since this might be a provocation," Nadia Matar, a resident of the community of Efrat south of Jerusalem in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, told Xinhua.

However, the settlement leaders hinted that they will build in a gradual and discreet way.

"We are going back to normal construction," Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shaul Goldstein said after a council meeting on Sunday morning. His area, situated between Jerusalem and Hebron, includes more than 15 communities and upwards of 60,000 residents, including Efrat.

"There are people who have already signed a contract with a contractor and there are those who have not. So we will view the construction as a developing move and will not do it immediately," Goldstein said.

Right after the cornerstone-laying ceremony, several hundred settlers and supporters rallied at Revava Sunday afternoon to mark the end of the moratorium, as tractors and construction gear poured the foundation for a kindergarten.

DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS CONTINUE

While settlers are ready to begin construction across the West Bank, Israeli and Palestinian officials, as well as international mediators are still making efforts to save the direct negotiations which restarted less than a month ago.

Palestinian expectations and responses to Sunday's events were mixed, in contrast to earlier across-the-board hard-line statements.

Only Netanyahu can "neutralize the explosive situation," Israel radio quoted chief Palestinian National Authority (PNA) negotiator Nabil Shaath as saying on Sunday, referring to the construction renewal.

However, Hebron Mayor Khalid Ossaily on Sunday told Israeli Army radio that Palestinians would not be likely to walk out on direct talks with Israeli counterparts, as a result of a resumption of Jewish construction in West Bank settlements.

Ossaily, who is considered a close confidante of PNA President Mahmoud Abbas, said in an interview that Palestinians were willing to overlook small-scale construction at the conclusion of Israel's self-imposed 10-month construction moratorium.

While Abbas told the UN General Assembly on Saturday that " Israel must choose between peace and the continuation of settlements," he did not threaten to walk away from talks if Israel resumes building, a move that would seem to back up Ossaily 's stance.

Shaath and Abbas arrived in Paris on Sunday to meet with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Francois Fillon, as well as with Jewish leaders in what the Ynet news called an effort by the French leaders to keep Abbas at the negotiating table with Israel.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, before returning to Israel from intensive talks with American officials in New York, said in a media interview on Sunday that he estimated chances of a settlement deal with the Palestinians stood at "50-50."

Washington, the main mediator for the direct talks, in the meanwhile urged the two sides to keep at it despite the end of the settlement construction freeze.

"We are going to urge and urge, and push throughout this day to get some kind of resolution" of the settlement issue, David Axelrod, U.S. President Barack Obama's senior policy adviser, told ABC news.

"These talks themselves are absolutely crucial, we're at a critical juncture in that region," Axelrod added.

Netanyahu on Sunday also urged his ministers to keep media commentary on the topic to a minimum, keeping the behind-the- scenes haggling among Israeli party factions, and with the Palestinians out of the public eye.

Settler leaders, however, were adamant that, come what may, construction would continue.

"We understand the pressure Netanyahu is under, but this entire freeze has failed to achieve anything. There is no reason to stop building during negotiations with the Palestinians," Goldstein said, according to the Ynet news site.

 

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Editor:Zhang Pengfei |Source: Xinhua

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