Israel: Palestinians use Settlements as Excuse

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Israel's foreign minister said Friday he
believes the U.S. and Israel will resolve their differences over
Jewish settlements, and accused the Palestinians of using the issue
to avoid peace talks.

Avigdor Lieberman said settlements are not "an obstacle" to
peace, and he reiterated that Israel is ready to start direct talks
with the Palestinians immediately.

"It's very clear that ... the settlements ... (are) an excuse
for those that tried to avoid any peace talks," he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a backer of Jewish
settlers, insists that construction must be allowed to continue to
accommodate "natural growth" of the settler population in the
West Bank through births and marriages. The Palestinians want the
West Bank and Gaza Strip for their future state and say they won't
renew peace talks until Israel agrees to freeze settlement
construction and negotiate Palestinian statehood.

President Barack Obama's administration is backing the
Palestinians on the settlement issue - demanding a freeze in hopes
of promoting peace talks, encouraging the Arab world to make
overtures toward Israel, and improving U.S. relations with Arab
states.

Neither side gave any ground when Lieberman met U.S. Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday in Washington.

Lieberman was asked after a meeting Friday with U.N.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon whether the dispute with the U.S. can
be resolved.

Speaking in English, he said, "we have one disagreement, and I
think that even in this point we can formulate understandings - we
can achieve understandings."

Later, speaking in Hebrew, he said Israel was "working hard"
to reach an agreement with the U.S. and referred to Netanyahu's
speech earlier this month in which he endorsed the idea of a
Palestinian state for the first time.

"I believe that after the prime minister's speech, there is a
new positive approach to this issue, and even there we'll find a
formula that will bridge the differences," Lieberman said.

The settlement issue is expected to dominate Netanyahu's meeting
next week with U.S. special Middle East peace envoy George
Mitchell.

Netanyahu's endorsement of the idea of a Palestinian state
listed a series of conditions rejected by the Palestinians -
including a refusal to share control over the holy city of
Jerusalem, demilitarization of a Palestinian state, and recognition
of Israel as a Jewish state. But Lieberman said there is now a
chance to start a dialogue with the Palestinians.

"We don't have any precondition," Lieberman said. "I think
that we (have a) right for our position. The Palestinians have (a)
right for their position and ... it's important to start with talks
without precondition, and every side will try to convince the other
side."


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