Netanyahu vows to stay in West Bank
Israel's prime minister last night declared his country would retain parts of the West Bank forever -- a statement sure to provoke Palestinians and complicate the year-old peace mission of a visiting US envoy.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid claim to the disputed territory just hours after meeting with George Mitchell, the US's Middle East envoy.
Mr Mitchell has been shuttling between Israeli and Palestinian leaders since late last week in hopes of breaking a deadlock over Israeli settlement construction.
"Our message is clear: We are planting here, we will stay here, we will build here, this place will be an inseparable part of the state of Israel for eternity," Mr Netanyahu proclaimed at a tree-planting ceremony celebrating the Jewish arbor day at a settlement just south of Jerusalem.
The Palestinians claim the West Bank and east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, for a future independent state and the settlements undermine this goal. They have refused to resume peacemaking until all settlement construction stops, which Mr Netanyahu refuses to do.
The US official later left Jerusalem for a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in neighbouring Jordan.
Mr Abbas' aide, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, said Mr Netanyahu's tree planting undermined peace prospects.
"This is an unacceptable act that destroys all the efforts being exerted by senator Mitchell in order to bring the parties back to the negotiating table," he said.