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Netanyahu freezes settlement construction during Iran nuke talks

Special to WorldTribune.com

JERUSALEM — For the first time, Israel has agreed to link a Palestinian state in the West Bank to a halt in Iran’s nuclear program.

On Nov. 12, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu halted plans to examine
new housing projects around Jerusalem and the West Bank. In wake of U.S.
criticism, Netanyahu said his government would not approve Jewish
construction amid P5+1 negotiations with Teheran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  /Flash90

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. /Flash90

“At this time, the attention of the international community must not be diverted from the main effort — preventing Iran from receiving an agreement that will allow it to continue its military nuclear program,” Netanyahu said.

This marked the first time that an Israeli government linked the future of Jerusalem and the West Bank to Iran’s nuclear program. On Nov. 7, both Netanyahu and his ministers rejected U.S. pressure on Israel for concessions to the Palestinian Authority in negotiations for a takeover of the West Bank.

Hours before Netanyahu’s latest statement, the administration of
President Barack Obama responded harshly to Israeli plans to consider up to
20,000 housing units in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Officials said the
administration threatened a confrontation with Netanyahu.

“We were surprised by these announcements, and are currently seeking
further explanation from the government of Israel,” State Department
spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

For his part, Netanyahu directed Housing Minister Uri Ariel to cancel
plans to examine the feasibility of a construction tender. The prime
minister, days after pledging additional Jewish housing, said Ariel acted
without Netanyahu’s consent.

“This is a meaningless step — legally and in practice — and an action
that creates an unnecessary confrontation with the international community
at a time when we are making an effort to persuade elements in the
international community to reach a better deal with Iran,” Netanyahu said.

Officials acknowledged that Washington had sought to link an Iranian
nuclear deal to a Palestinian state in the West Bank. They said senior
members of the administration, including Secretary of State John Kerry,
warned that the international community would isolate Israel and reject its
fears of a nuclear Iran without progress in negotiations with the PA.

Netanyahu has been the leading critic to a P5+1 proposal for the
resolution of Iran’s nuclear crisis. In numerous speeches, the prime
minister said the deal, blocked by France, would lift sanctions and other
measures without dismantling Iran’s uranium enrichment and plutonium
programs.

“Israel prefers the diplomatic option over any other option,” Netanyahu
said. “But we want a genuine diplomatic solution that dismantles Iran’s
military nuclear capabilities.”

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