Spanish PM calls for Israeli settlement freeze
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero calls for Israel and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.Ramallah – Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero called for an Israeli settlement freeze in the West Bank and a relaunch of the Middle East peace process, during a visit on Thursday.
"The complete halt and freeze of settlements is a fundamental issue. We need to see that happen despite the difficult conditions so we can continue the political negotiations," he told reporters in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
"I hope for an end to the gridlock and the difficulties in the efforts exerted by (US) President Barack Obama's administration," he added, speaking through an official Arabic translator.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said at the same press conference that he hoped Spain would actively support the peace process when it holds the European Union's rotating presidency in the first half of 2010.
"We discussed many current issues, including the peace process, and we (Palestinians) confirm that we are prepared to continue this process when there is a complete freeze of settlements," Abbas said.
Washington has been struggling for months to get Israel and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table after peace talks were suspended during Israel's war on the Islamist movement Hamas in Gaza at the beginning of the year.
The Palestinians have said they will not negotiate with Israel's right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unless he halts all settlement activity in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Israel has agreed to certain reductions in settlement growth but has refused Washington's calls for a complete freeze.
Zapatero met earlier in the day with Israeli President Shimon Peres, who said Israelis were prepared to relaunch negotiations.
"In Israel there is great appreciation for President Obama and we believe his goals and intentions are good, correct and just," Peres said.
The presence of nearly half a million Israelis in dozens of settlements across the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, has long been one of the thorniest issues in the decades-old Middle East conflict.
The international community considers all Israeli settlements constructed in lands occupied during the 1967 Six-Day War to be illegal.
AFP / Expatica