Binyamin Netanyahu seeks deal on settlements

Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will come under concerted pressure to fall into line with Barack Obama’s plans for bringing peace to the Middle East when he meets with Washington’s special envoy in London today.

Better relations with Arab neighbours and a tougher line on Iran are the lures that George Mitchell will hold out to Mr Netanyahu in a bid to force a compromise over continued settlement activity.

American officials confirmed earlier this month that their new peace plan would be unveiled within weeks, possibly as soon as next month’s UN General Assembly meeting in New York.

The threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions has brought a new momentum to the process with Arab states more ready than ever to make concessions to Israel over issues like recognition in return for global co-operation against the regime in Tehran.
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What remains to be seen is how far Israel is prepared to go to meet the US on demands for a halt in settlement activity which the Palestinians have made a precondition for talks.

Mr Netanyahu said yesterday he would seek a compromise allowing some limited expansion to continue and exclude Jerusalem from the deal.

At a press conference with Gordon Brown following their meeting at Downing Street, Mr Netanyahu said: “What we're seeking to achieve with the United States in the talks we've conducted, and will conduct tomorrow and will conduct after tomorrow is to find a bridging formula that will enable us to at once launch a process but enable those to continue living normal lives.”

“Normal lives” is the phrase Israeli representatives use to refer to construction that allows for the growth of settler families among the West Bank communities, where 300,000 Jewish Israelis live on occupied Palestinian land.

Mr Brown said he had made it clear to Mr Netanyahu that settlement activity was a barrier to Middle East peace. But he added that he was “more optimistic than before” about the chances for the peace process. Mr Netanyahu is under pressure from right wing allies at home not to be seen to be caving to international pressure over the settlements.


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