Thursday, December 3, 2009

Netanyahu talks to settlement leaders: Reduce Tensions and respect freeze

(Haaretz, Jpost).Defiant West Bank settler leaders rejected on Thursday a personal plea from the prime minister to respect a construction freeze in the territories, vowing to keep confronting security forces sent to enforce the edict.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoned settler leaders to a Tel Aviv meeting on Thursday morning in a bid to defuse the tensions.

Netanyahu told the settlement heads that "We need to pass through this period together in a spirit of cooperation."

"Instead of creating an atmosphere of crisis, we should focus on getting out of this period and overcoming the problems together. We are only a few days into the process, and I ask that you show patience."

During the talks, West Bank regional council heads told the premier that they would continue to fight the moratorium, and voiced doubt that it would end after 10-months, as declared by Netanyahu. The head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, David Alhiani David Elhani, lambasted the prime minister over the freeze.

"Am I your enemy?" he asked. "Why are you treating me like an enemy?"

Settler leader Dani Dayan called the three-hour meeting difficult and emotionally charged. Speaking on Israel Radio, he said the settlers would continue their struggle against the freeze, both through civil disobedience and legal challenges. The settlers have scheduled a mass demonstration next week in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu's bureau, for its part, said the meeting was businesslike and was held in a respectful manner.

At the end of the meeting, the bureau said, Netanyahu noted 30 complaints the settlers made about the implementation of the freeze, and said he would relay them to Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

During the two-hour meeting, Netanyahu told the settlers he respected their right to disagree, but told them they must respect the rule of law. "You have the right to demonstrate. You have the right to protest. You have the right to express an opinion, but it's unacceptable not to respect a decision that was taken by law," Netanyahu said, according to a statement released by his office.

"I want you as leaders to hold the steering wheel with us, The real solution is through dialogue and finding solutions during this limited time period. we need to get through this period together by cooperation, instead of creating an atmosphere of crisis in order to focus on leaving the period of moratorium, and overcome the problems together,"

Netanyahu told them, "This step makes clear to the central actors in the world that Israel is serious in its intentions to achieve peace, while the Palestinians are the ones refusing to start peace negotiations. This step has made clear who the peace resisters are."

"Nine months and three weeks remain to the end of this period," Netanyahu said. "At the end of this period we will continue to build. I want to make clear, the future of the settlements will be decided only in a peace agreement."