JERUSALEM (AP) — A senior Israeli official said Thursday that his country will announce new plans for West Bank settlement construction in the coming months, a day after Israel's leader held lengthy talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Rome for seven hours with Kerry to discuss Iran's nuclear program and also recently restarted peace talks. The Palestinians consider settlements a major obstacle to establishing a state that includes the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war. Israel has since built dozens of settlements that are now home to about 550,000 Israelis. The Americans typically criticize any new settlement construction plans, calling them unhelpful to peace efforts.
But the Israeli official, speaking anonymously because new building plans have yet to be announced publicly, said the Americans and Palestinians were aware of the Israeli intentions that were made clear before talks resumed.
The official insisted that any new construction would take place inside the major blocs Israel would probably keep in any future peace deal. In previous rounds of negotiations, the Palestinians agreed to swap some West Bank land for Israeli territory to allow Israel to annex the largest settlement blocs adjacent to its border.
The Palestinians refused to negotiate with Netanyahu for nearly five years, demanding that he halt construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. With Netanyahu refusing to stop the construction, the Palestinians reluctantly returned to the negotiating table under heavy American pressure, but remain deeply skeptical about the Israeli leader.
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, rejected the Israeli official's comments. "We don't accept any settlement bids and Israel should stop these acts to give negotiations the opportunity to succeed," he said Thursday. "For us, all settlements are illegal and Israel should top putting obstacles in the way of peace and all its acts in this regard are illegal and void."