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Settlers meet Netanyahu over settlement freeze

Palestinian laborers work on a new housing project on December 2, 2009 in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
Palestinian laborers work on a new housing project on December 2, 2009 in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu sat down with 25 municipal leaders from West Bank settlements
  • Netanyahu has appealed to Palestinian Authority to resume negotiations during freeze
  • So far the freeze has been generally greeted with derision from settlers
  • Palestinian Authority rejected freeze as inadequate as it does not apply to east Jerusalem
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Jerusalem (CNN) -- Settler leaders in Israel voiced their consternation Thursday over the government's 10-month building freeze, with one top leader telling the country's prime minister that the moratorium will be defied.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat down with 25 municipal leaders from West Bank settlements in a two-hour meeting in Tel Aviv over the program, a 10-month freeze on new housing projects in the West Bank excluding east Jerusalem.

The freeze -- announced last week by Netanyahu following a meeting of his Security Cabinet -- comes after the Obama administration requested a ban earlier this year to jump-start the moribund peace process with the Palestinians.

In announcing the ban, Netanyahu appealed to the Palestinian Authority to take advantage of the 10-month "window" to resume negotiations.

So far, the Palestinians have not agreed to restart talks and the freeze has been generally greeted with derision from settlers.

Dany Dayan -- chairman of the Yesha Council, a group of Jewish municipal councils from the West Bank -- told CNN that settlements under construction would continue to be built.

Confrontations have erupted almost daily in the West Bank, with groups of settlers forcibly attempting to keep away inspectors enforcing the ban. Dayan indicated settlers would continue to refuse entry of government inspectors to settlements.

Dayan also said settlers planned to demonstrate outside Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday, and added he was hopeful that the policy would be changed.

An Israeli government official called the atmosphere at the meeting "respectful" and "businesslike," saying that some strong complaints were aired. But most, he said, were complaints and concerns about how the freeze was to be implemented. Settlers passed along about 30 complaints to the government, which will review them, the official said.

Netanyahu said the people had the right to protest the directive but they must abide by it, and most of the people at the meeting appeared to understand that the move was a done deal, the official said.

The freeze has been slammed by people who have backed Netanyahu, but the official said the prime minister's coalition -- a right-leaning government -- remains strong.

Netanyahu, seeking to allay settler fears that the building ban would be indefinite, said on Tuesday that the move is a "one-time and temporary decision." And, he is hoping to have further meetings with the settlement leaders.

"Just as was written in the Security Cabinet decision, and just as I have made clear in both public and private meetings, we will go back to building at the end of the suspension."

The international reaction to Netanyahu's announcement has been mixed. The American administration said it was a step in the right direction. The Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, has rejected the freeze as inadequate, because it does not apply to east Jerusalem and is temporary.

CNN's Paul Colsey contributed to this report.

 
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