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Netanyahu says US retracted offer to extend settlement freeze

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that Israel had agreed to a US offer for an additional three month construction freeze in the West Bank, but the US retracted the offer. “I told Obama that I am prepared to go with this to the cabinet and that I will be able to enforce the move, but then I received the surprising phone call from the Americans who said they no longer demand that Israel extends the freeze,” Netanyahu said. He added that he agreed with the US stance that the freeze would lead to a dead end. Netanyahu made his comments to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee. He added that US officials will return to Israel in mid-January in an attempt to bridge the existing gaps between Palestinian and Israeli position and find ways to renew negotiations between the sides.

The prime minister emphasised his opinion that the Palestinians were responsible for the deadlock in the talks. “We took many actions in order to move the peace process forward but the Palestinians did not even advance one millimetre despite the settlement freeze. The Palestinians entered talks only toward the end of the freeze and the only subject they wanted to discuss was an extension of the freeze,” he said.

On the topic of a Palestinian unilateral declaration of statehood, Netanyahu said that these efforts would fail and would not produce any concrete results. He noted that he spoke to the Chilean President Sebastian Pinera and told him that any recognition for a Palestinian state will make peace more unlikely because it strengthens the Palestinian belief that they can make progress without negotiations. Netanyahu also stressed that the coalition partners would not prevent him from pursuing a peace agreement with the Palestinians if one was possible.