In a meeting yesterday in Ramallah between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Meretz party leader MK Zahava Gal-on, Abbas said that the Palestinians would agree to prolong peace negotiations if Israel officially froze all construction and released additional Palestinian prisoners.
“The only way we will agree to extend talks is if Netanyahu declares a freeze in settlement construction and releases additional prisoners beyond the next installment,” Abbas said.
Abbas reportedly threatened that he would “put the keys on the table and turn to international institutions” should negotiations fail.
Gal-on blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bringing peace negotiations to a standstill.
“The problem is that instead of making new and courageous choices about peace Netanyahu prefers to make old and cowardly decisions on settlement construction,” Gal-on criticized on her Facebook page. “Ironically, just as Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama began, a report by the Central Bureau of Statistics indicated that this year, a record was set in the number of new homes in the settlements – a crazy increase of 125% last year!”
“These, my friends, are the distorted priorities of the Netanyahu government. One hand builds settlements and the other hand flies to Obama to tell him stories about peace,” wrote Gal-on.
In a recent interview, U.S. President Barack Obama blasted Israel for its continued construction. He condemned Israel’s policies regarding settlement construction in the West Bank and said it was the most counterproductive action to peace Israel could make.
“If you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction – and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple of years than we’ve seen in a very long time,” Obama said.
According to a recently released report by the Central Bureau of Statistics, new Israeli construction in the West Bank increased by a whopping 120 percent in 2013.
CBS data showed that in 2013, Israel began construction on 2,534 housing units in Judea and Samaria, compared to 1,133 in 2012. New construction in Judea and Samaria comprised a total of 5.7 percent of all new construction in Israel in 2013.
Compared to other areas in Israel, the growth of construction in the West Bank is massive. In the Tel Aviv area, construction of new units dropped 19 percent. In southern Israel, there was only a 12 percent rise of new housing units and an eight percent rise in the Haifa area. Northern Israel saw the smallest amount of growth, with only a one percent rise in new construction. Jerusalem saw a 3.4 percent rise.
Roughly 350,000 – or 4.4 percent – of Israel’s 8,000,000 population live in the West Bank.
The newly released statistics come at a precarious time for U.S. brokered peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has pressured Israel into an unofficial freeze of construction in Israeli settlements and East Jerusalem.
Abbas is set to meet with Obama at the White House on March 17 to discuss a final peace framework agreement.