Monday, January 30, 2012

PA slams Israel settlement plans

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The Palestinian Authority on Monday condemned Israel's decision to offer financial incentives to encourage Israelis to move to settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Some 70 settlements are on a list of "national priority areas" for housing and development grants, approved by Israel's cabinet on Sunday, the Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post reported.

"The decision is designed to encourage positive migration to the communities and to assist in finding solutions to ease the housing situation. The decision will also contribute to economically strengthening these communities," the Israeli prime minister's office said in a statement.

Palestinian Authority Minister for Settlement Affairs Maher Ghonim condemned the decision, noting that most of the settlements targeted for development were east of Israel's wall. The Post reported that 57 of the settlements were east of the illegal wall and included land deep inside the West Bank.

Ghonim said the decision aimed to undermine the possibility of a two-state solution and defied the international community, which condemns Jewish-only settlement building on occupied Palestinian land.

He noted that Israel decided to expand settlements at a time of regional and international efforts to rescue stalled peace talks between Israel and the PLO.

Israeli and Palestinian envoys met five times in Amman in January for "exploratory talks" aimed at resuming full negotiations, but no progress was made.

PLO officials blamed Israel for the deadlock.

"In light of the results of the Amman meetings, the Palestinian leadership holds Israel fully responsible for their failure," the PLO's executive committee said Monday.

"These meetings exposed Israel's determination to pursue settlement activity and its rejections of the two state solution based on the 1967 boundaries," it added in a statement, issued after a meeting in Ramallah.

A committee member said the PLO decided not to return to the talks held in the Jordanian capital, as demanded by Europe and the United States.

The PLO pulled out of the last round of negotiations in September 2010 after Israel refused to suspend settlement building on land which would be a Palestinian state in a two-state solution.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday blamed Palestinians for the lack of progress.

"As things stand now, according to what happened over the past few days, when the Palestinians refused even to discuss Israel's security needs with us, the signs are not particularly good," he told his cabinet.

"But I hope they will come to their senses and continue the talks in order for us to advance to real negotiations."

Reuters contributed to this report.

Maan News Agency