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Israel Says No Change in Settlement Policy after Obama Speech

Israel says it won't change its settlement policy despite new demands by the President of the United States. The settlers have announced their own response to U.S. pressure.

Israel says it will not halt construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, despite President Barack Obama's insistence on a settlement freeze. Mr. Obama most recently made the demand Thursday in his Cairo speech to the Muslim world.

The issue has raised tensions between the new, right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the U.S. administration, which sees the settlements as an obstacle to peace.

Government spokesman Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington, says Israel reserves the right to build in existing settlements to accommodate "natural growth."

"No democratic government can be expected to stop people, hundreds of thousands of people, living legally and under the law, wherever they live, of having children or putting up additional buildings. Look, this is not a dispute; this is a fact of life," he said.

As a concession to Washington, Israel has begun dismantling some small, illegal settlement outposts as part of its commitment under the "roadmap" peace plan, but with little success. On Friday, settlers returned to the outpost of Oz Yonatan near the Palestinian-ruled city of Ramallah, after it was dismantled by the army earlier this week.

"Our message is very clear: Obama, no you can't. You can't give away the land of the Bible that belongs to the people of the Bible," said settlement activist Nadia Matar.

Palestinian officials say Mr. Obama's call for a settlement freeze is a good start. But they say the test will be converting words to deeds.