By Jean-Luc Renaudie
Israel says the US is demanding it "take steps that are a real sacrifice" regarding settlements.
Jun 01, 2009
Israel has refused to bow to US calls for a freeze on all settlement in the occupied West Bank, as it fumes over "unfair" demands that have raised tensions between the key allies.
"I want to say in a crystal clear manner that the current Israeli government will not accept in any fashion that legal settlement activity be frozen," Transport Minister Yisrael Katz, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said on Sunday.
Netanyahu also held firm on Israel's controversial blockade of Hamas-run Gaza Strip, warning that Islamists are re-arming and that the ceasefire that ended a 22-day war on January 18 remains very fragile...
A senior Israeli official complained that Washington under President Barack Obama - who has vowed to pursue Middle East peace talks as part of a changed approach to the region - is placing unfair demands on the Jewish state.
"The Americans have demanded almost nothing from the Palestinians but are asking Israel to take steps that are a real sacrifice. These demands are unfair," he told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"The Palestinians are taking a passive approach. They're not even ready to meet the Israeli side, and Abu Mazen (Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas) wants the Americans to do all the work," he said.
Abbas, who met Obama last week 10 days after the US president met Netanyahu, has vowed that he will not resume talks unless Israel freezes settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The Obama administration has demanded that Israel stop all its activity in the settlements, including so-called natural growth construction that allows for building to accommodate a rising population.
The unusually blunt talk over one of the top stumbling points in the stalled Middle East peace process has raised alarm bells that the new US president could put pressure on Israel as part of his new approach to the Muslim world.
"This is an unjustifiable demand that the government and the public do not accept," said Interior Minister Eli Yishai of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party...
Israeli officials have also complained that Obama's administration has yet to say it will honour commitments in a letter that then US president George W Bush sent to then Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in 2004.
Bush said that given the existence of major settlement blocs in the West Bank it was "unrealistic" to expect Israel to fully withdraw from the territory as part of a final peace deal.
Aside from the settlements, there is stark disagreement between Washington and Israel over creating a Palestinian state, with Obama repeatedly saying he's committed to the principle and Netanyahu so far refusing to endorse it in public.
Obama is due in Saudi Arabia and Egypt this week in a bid to reach out to Muslims and end the deep mistrust of the United States felt across much of the Islamic world.
Netanyahu on Sunday also held firm on maintaining the blockade of Gaza, saying "we do not want to strengthen Hamas" by allowing the Islamist group to rebuild its defences.
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Angry Israel confronts US over West Bank
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