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DPA: "Peace unlikely even in 16 years: Israeli Foreign Minister (Roundup)"
Aug 23, 2009

Jerusalem - Israel and the Palestinians have been unable to reach a peace deal in the 16 years since the signing of the Oslo interim peace accords, and it is likely they will be not do so in the next 16 years, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Sunday.

'There is no chance of bridging the Israeli and Palestinian positions in the foreseeable future,' he was quoted as telling reporters.

Lieberman noted resolutions passed at the recent conference of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party, which he said called for a resumption of violence if peace talks failed, an insistence that Palestinian refugees return to the homes they abandoned in what is now Israel, and alleged that Israel killed former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

For this reason,' the Jerusalem Post daily quoted him as saying, 'those who say that a two-state solution will end the conflict don't have any idea what they're talking about or are intentionally misleading.'

The minister, leader of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael B'Teinu (Israel Our Home) party, Premier Benjamin Netanyahu's largest coalition partner, said that while he was sceptical that a peace deal could be reached in the near future, he was willing to let others try.

He said Israel was not looking for a confrontation with the US over the dispute regarding a halt to settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, but would not say whether he would support any settlement freeze.

President Barack Obama has demanded that Israel stop all settlement construction, but Netanyahu has countered that while Israel will not build any new settlements, it will proceed with construction inside existing ones, to allow for population expansion, so-called 'natural growth.'

Palestinians have named an absolute Israeli halt in settlement activity as one of their conditions for renewing peace talks, suspended late last year as Israel entered the election campaign which eventually resulted in Netanyahu becoming prime minister.

Israel Radio reported Sunday morning that Jerusalem and Washington have made 'progress' in talks to settle the dispute

Netanyahu leaves Monday for Europe, where he will meet this week for talks on the issue with US special envoy George Mitchell.

According to the radio report, Israeli officials believe Mitchell will propose that Israel freeze construction in the settlements, and the US will agree to allow buildings already under construction to be completed.

The Jerusalem Post reported that Israel wants a six month freeze, but the US is holding out for a two-year moratorium on construction.

Israeli Minister of Housing Ariel Attias said last week that the Netanyahu government has not approved any new tenders for construction in the West Bank since taking office five months ago.

He denied this was due to a freeze in settlement construction, but said it was simply a 'waiting period' for the defence minister to give the green light for constructions to go ahead.

The anti-settlement Peace Now group said in a report Sunday that since the beginning of the year the construction of 600 new buildings has begun in the West Bank, some of them in unauthorized settlement outposts Israel is required to evacuate.

Settler leaders dismissed the Peace Now claims, saying that there has been a complete freeze in settlement construction.