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Palestinians say it`s time to recognize their state
By Reuters
Ynet / Israel News

Israel`s plan to build new homes in east Jerusalem should be countered by international recognition of a Palestinian state, the chief Palestinian negotiator said on Tuesday.

Raising the stakes in deadlocked US-sponsored peace talks, Saeb Erekat said it was clear from the latest announcement of building plans that Israel wants settlements, not peace.

Tough Stance

`Israeli unilateralism is a call for immediate international recognition of the Palestinian state,` he said in a statement.

The world paid little attention when the late Yasser Arafat declared a Palestinian state in 1988. But political winds have shifted and Israel today is seriously concerned that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas might win recognition.

Abbas has floated the idea of `going to the United Nations` to declare statehood as one option if peace negotiations collapse, but only after first seeking support from Washington.

Israel on Monday announced plans to build 1,300 new homes on occupied West Bank land it has annexed to Jerusalem, and on Tuesday news reports said a further 800 units were planned in the big settlement of Ariel in the northern West Bank.

The building plans were made public as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in the United States to discuss ways to revive peacemaking that stalled over the settlements.

`This kind of activity is never helpful when it comes to peace negotiations,` US President Barack Obama said during a visit to Indonesia.

`And I`m concerned that we`re not seeing each side make the extra effort involved to get a breakthrough that could finally create a framework for a secure Israel living side by side in peace with a sovereign Palestine.`

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was expected to raise the issue in a meeting with Netanyahu in New York on Thursday.

`It can take months or years`
European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said the plan `contradicts the efforts by the international community to resume direct negotiations and the decision should be reversed`.

She added: `Settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.`

Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in September almost as soon as they had begun, after Netanyahu rebuffed Palestinian demands to extend a partial freeze on West Bank settlement building.

Netanyahu countered censure of the latest Israeli project by noting that Jewish homes had gone up in east Jerusalem during previous rounds of peace talks, without blocking them.

`Israel sees no connection between the peace process and planning and building policy in Jerusalem,` his office said in a statement. `The disputes with the United States on the matter of Jerusalem are known ... We hope to overcome them and keep diplomatic talks moving ahead.`

Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank, in 1967 and regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, including the two neighborhoods where new housing has been approved. World powers do not accept Israel`s claim on east Jerusalem, which

Palestinians want for the capital of their future state.

Noting that the controversial housing announcement was made while Netanyahu was in the United States, Clinton spokesman J.P. Crowley said: `It could very well be that somebody in Israel has made this known in order to embarrass the prime minister and to undermine the process`.

Washington was outraged in March when settlement housing plans were announced with what looked like defiant timing as US Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Jerusalem.

Israeli Interior Ministry spokeswoman Efrat Orbach said Monday`s announcement was simply another procedural stage. `It can take months or years from this point until building can actually begin,` she said.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad embarked on a two-year plan in 2009 to construct the complete institutional framework of a state by mid-2011. It has won EU backing, and some Israeli commentators say Fayyad should be taken seriously.

The prospect of Washington recognizing an independent Palestine without Israel`s consent seems very remote. But Israeli analysts speculate that Obama could threaten to abstain rather than veto a UN resolution if he believes Netanyahu is obstructing the path to a peace treaty.

A World Bank report last month said that if the Palestinian Authority keeps up its `performance in institution-building and delivery of public services, it is well-positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future`.

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