Reporter Linda Gradstein takes a look at the new Israeli government's stance on settlements in the West Bank.
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LISA MULLINS: The new Netanyahu government in Israel appears to be on a collision course with the new Obama administration in Washington. The issue is whether Israel has to stop building settlements on the occupied West Bank before there can be productive peace talks with Palestinians. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sounded unequivocal yesterday in Washington.
HILLARY CLINTON: The President was very clear when President Netanyahu was here. He wants to see a stop to settlements, not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions, and we intend to press that point.
MULLINS: Today, Israel responded. From Jerusalem, Linda Gradstein reports.
LINDA GRADSTEIN: Even when he was in Washington last week, Israel's Prime Minister was making it clear Israel would only do so much on the contentious issue of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Today, his spokesman, Mark Regev, spelled it out.
MARK REGEV: We will not build new settlements and we will be taking down unauthorized outposts. As to existing settlements, it's clear that their status will be determined in negotiations between us and the Palestinians. In the interim period, normal life in those communities should continue.
GRADSTEIN: The phrase â€œnormal lifeâ€ has apparently replaced what Israeli officials call â€œnatural growthâ€. When Regev was pressed on whether this means new construction in some settlements, he said yes. Yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will not build any new settlements but Israel will continue to allow natural growth in existing settlements. Netanyahu said that growing families in the settlements need to build homes as children grow up and begin their own families. Gershom Gorenberg, a journalist and author of a book on settlements called â€œThe Accidental Empireâ€, says the Israeli claim of a need to build for natural growth is specious.
GERSHOM GORENBERG: It holds as much water as a sieve. It's actually a bluff. There's no such thing as natural growth in the settlements. From the beginning, from the very start of the enterprise have been a government-subsidized project. Therefore, all growth there is unnaturally accelerated by government subsidies.
GRADSTEIN: The dovish Peace Now group says there is no need to expand settlements, as there are already thousands of empty houses in settlements. There are some 275,000 settlers in the West Bank today, excluding East Jerusalem. There are also some 100 unauthorized settlement outposts including at least 20 built on private Palestinian land. The Israeli statements on settlements come just hours before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets President Obama at the White House. Gershom Gorenberg says Netanyahu is facing a dilemma.
GORENBERG: The American administration insists he move forward on a peace process which includes putting an end to settlement growth and working toward a two-state solution. The relationship with the US is the single most important strategic asset that Israel has, so it can't afford to harm that relationship.
GRADSTEIN: On the other hand, Gorenberg says, Netanyahu is the leader of a right-wing coalition that makes compromise on settlements politically difficult. For The World, I'm Linda Gradstein, in Jerusalem.