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Middle east

Netanyahu to lay out 'peace and security' policy next week

©

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-06-08

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a major policy address days after US President Barack Obama vowed to back Palestinian aspirations in his speech to the Muslim world.

AFP - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he will make a key speech next week laying out his government's policies on the Middle East peace process.

"Next week I will make a key diplomatic speech where I will present before the citizens of Israel our principles for reaching peace and security," Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting.

The hawkish premier did not specify when he would deliver his address, but a senior government official told AFP it would probably be next Sunday.

Netanyahu's comments were his first since US President Barack Obama's speech to the Muslim world on Thursday, in which he reiterated Washington's "unbreakable" bond with Israel, but vowed not to turn his back on Palestinian aspirations and repeated his call for a halt to Jewish settlements.

"I would like to make it clear -- we would like to reach peace with the Palestinians and with the Arab states with the maximum understandings of the United States," Netanyahu said.

"My goal is to reach a stable peace that is based on a solid principle of security for Israel and its citizens."

Over the past few months tensions between the United States and its staunchest ally have risen to levels not seen in 20 years as Washington pressed Netanyahu to publicly back the principle of a Palestinian state and freeze all settlement activity on occupied land.

Netanyahu has resisted both demands, which are fiercely opposed by many in his largely right-wing government that analysts say would likely collapse if he bowed to Washington.

On Sunday, Israel again sparred with Washington over settlements, insisting that the United States respect previous understandings on the issue despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying no such agreements exist.

Transport Minister Yisrael Katz insisted the government would continue to build in existing settlements in the occupied West Bank.

"We are not building new settlements, but we insist on the continuation of building within existing settlements," the close Netanyahu ally said.

"I believe the Americans will respect the commitments that they've given us in the past in writing and orally," he said in an apparent reference to a 2004 letter that then president George W. Bush sent then premier Ariel Sharon.

In the letter, Bush said that given the existence of major Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank, it was "unrealistic" to expect a full withdrawal from the occupied territory.

The Israelis have repeatedly said that with the letter, along with oral comments, the previous administration agreed to so-called natural growth -- construction in existing settlements to accommodate population increases.

But Clinton categorically rejected the claim, saying on Friday that whatever positions were laid out "did not become part of the official position of the United States government."

"We have the negotiating record, that is the official record that was turned over to the Obama administration by the outgoing Bush administration," Clinton said. "There is no memorialisation of any informal or oral agreement" concerning settlements.

More than 280,000 Israelis live in settlements across the West Bank, which was captured from Jordan during the 1967 Six Day War.

The international community considers all Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegal and along with the Palestinians view them as a major obstacle to any Middle East peace deal.

Date created : 2009-06-07

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