Settlement freeze backed by Lieberman

By Anshel Pfeffer, June 13, 2013

Former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman has thrown his weight behind a temporary freeze on public building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The freeze is just the latest concession Israel has made to try to kick-start the diplomatic process — this week news emerged that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had also offered to release 50 prisoners as a gesture to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

State Secretary John Kerry has been trying to create a framework for new talks and while the Israeli government has officially denied there is a building freeze in Jerusalem and the West Bank, senior city officials have claimed that no new projects are currently going forward.

In a radio interview this week, Mr Lieberman, who is still intimately involved in the diplomatic deliberations, confirmed this was the case. Mr Lieberman said that the freeze was only “temporary” and that it was decided upon “because we want Kerry to succeed and we have to be not only justified but also clever”.

According to reports in the Israeli media, Mr Abbas refused an Israeli offer last year to release 50 veteran Palestinian prisoners in return for a resumption of talks. Senior Palestinians sources said that the Palestinian president demanded Israel release all 107 prisoners who were sentenced before the Oslo Agreements were signed in 1994, and agreed only to meet Mr Netanyahu in return but not to commit to full talks.

Mr Kerry was due to return to the region this week but his visit was postponed. Officially this was due to the emergency discussions taking place on the Syrian situation in Washington, but the fact that he has failed so far to convince both sides to return to negotiations is another reason.

The Palestinians are still demanding Israel commit to holding talks on a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 borders while Israel opposes preconditions to the talks.

Last updated: 5:45pm, June 13 2013