Friday, July 03, 2009

Lieberman: Settlements issue blown out of proportion

Jack Khoury, Haaretz Correspondent and Reuters

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Thursday responded to remarks made earlier by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said that Israel's construction in West Bank settlements jeopardized the two-state solution, and said that the world has blown the settlements issue entirely out of proportion.
"The situation in the West Bank and the cessation of settlement construction shouldn't top the international community's agenda," Lieberman said during a meeting with Druze leaders at the home of fellow party member MK Hamad Amar in Shfaram.

"North Korea fired three missiles today, despite the warnings and the sanctions, and the world is still occupying itself with Yitzhar and Migron," he said, referring to an outpost north of Jerusalem and a West Bank settlement.
"We have to allow the residents of the West Bank to live normal lives," Lieberman went on to say. "We can't strangle them. We must explain our stance and refrain from strangling people."

Lieberman added that "we all saw the occurrences and the dramatic events in Iran. Does the attempt to lead a normal life in Judea and Samaria top that on the international community's priority list? We have to bring things back into proportion."

The foreign minister also criticized what he termed as the Israeli government's concession policy, saying "we are certainly a government that wants to advance toward a resolution of the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, to come up with solutions, that isn't afraid to take responsibility. But taking responsibility doesn't mean that we always have to concede. We are always loved and applauded when we concede and concede. I'm not sure that these concessions lead to any kind of result."

Earlier Thursday, Merkel demanded that Israel halt construction in the West Bank settlements, saying it endangered efforts to achieve a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

"I think it is now important to get commitments from all sides and that includes the issue of settlement building," Merkel said in a speech to the Bundestag lower house of parliament.

"I am convinced that there must be a stop to this. Otherwise we will not come to the two-state solution that is urgently needed."

Merkel's remarks are in line with the positions of the European Union and the United States, but were unusually clear-cut for the German leader, who regularly cites her country's special obligation to Israel because of the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were deliberately murdered.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said U.S.-backed peace talks with Israel cannot resume until all settlement activity has ceased on captured land the Palestinians want for a state.

Washington has also called for a total halt to settlement building in the West Bank, a demand that has opened the most serious rift in U.S.-Israeli relations in a decade.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Wednesday that Israel would consider a limited moratorium on new settlement construction, but said it should be part of a broader deal bringing Arab states into the peace process.

Comment: "Settlements" are villages, towns and cities inhabited by Israeli citizens living in the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria.

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