Israel remains at odds with the international community on the thorny issue of Jewish settlements. The latest dispute follows a meeting of world powers in Europe.
Israel has again ruled out a halt to construction in Jewish settlements, saying building will continue to allow for "natural growth." The Israeli government was responding to a statement by foreign ministers of the Group of Eight industrialized nations.
Meeting in Italy on Friday, the G-8 ministers said a settlement freeze would help advance stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The statement was a show of support for U.S. President Barack Obama who has repeatedly demanded a halt to Israeli settlement construction, but to no avail. The dispute has created a rare rift between Israel and Washington.
Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor says the best way to resolve the settlement issue is by resuming direct peace negotiations. "We are fully committed to renewing full-fledged political talks with the Pals as soon as possible," he said.
But the Palestinians say that without a settlement freeze, there is nothing to talk about. And Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, agrees. "The problem with settlement expansion is that it's expanding on territory that may be part of the Palestinian state; so if you're going to negotiate a Palestinian state, Palestinians and the Arab states see this settlement expansion and say this is all a fraud," he said.
Israel says it reserves the right to build in major settlement blocs because they will remain a part of the Jewish state in any final peace agreement with the Palestinians.