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Israel dismisses U.S. anger at settlement plan
Wed Nov 18, 2009 9:51am EST
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By Allyn Fisher-Ilan
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday dismissed U.S. anger at Israel's approval for new homes in a settlement near Jerusalem, saying it was part of a routine building program.
Netanyahu seemed keen to contain the fresh dispute with Washington over settlements, ordering cabinet ministers to show restraint after the White House said it was "dismayed" at the plan to build 900 new houses in Gilo.
An official said the order went out after a deputy minister was quoted by an Israeli news website as accusing the United States of "behaving like a bull in a china shop" for objecting to the building plan for an area in the West Bank that Israel sees as part of Jerusalem.
Netanyahu's aide also sent reporters a message calling the building plan "a routine process." He said Netanyahu does not normally review municipal building plans and saw Gilo as "an integral part of Jerusalem."
"Construction in Gilo has taken place regularly for dozens of years and there is nothing new about the current planning and construction," the aide added.
Publication of the government commission's blueprint for Gilo on Tuesday drew sharp rebukes from the Palestinians, joined by Washington, Europe and the United Nations.
Nabil Abu Rdaineh, aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, condemned the building plan, saying it "destroys the last chances for the peace process." Abbas has said peace talks can resume only if settlement building stops.
Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat told an Israeli radio station on Wednesday Netanyahu "has the choice -- settlements or peace" and accused Israel of trying to decide the conflict by building instead of at the negotiating table.
MINISTER SAYS PLAN "TECHNICAL"
Israeli Housing Minister Ariel Attias, trying to minimize the plan's significance, called it a "technical" matter, telling Israel's Army Radio it could be a year or more before building began.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement released on Tuesday that "at a time when we are working to relaunch negotiations, these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed."
The United States also objects to continued evictions and the demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, he said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also deplored the Israeli move, spokesman Farhan Haq said. Ban "believes that such actions undermine efforts for peace and cast doubt on the viability of the two-state solution" for Israelis and Palestinians, he said.
President Barack Obama has been trying to persuade Israel to rein in settlement activity so that peace talks with the Palestinians, stalled for nearly a year, can resume.
Netanyahu has said he would avoid expanding existing settlements, but rejects demands to stop building in Jerusalem. Continued...
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