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U.S. reportedly pushing three-month freeze extension

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Obama administration reportedly suggested that Israel extend its current settlement freeze for three months, which Israel appears to have rejected.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made the suggestion Wednesday night during her meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to reports Thursday citing the the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

In a statement issued to Israeli media Thursday morning, the Prime Minister’s Office said, "We do not comment on the content of negotiations. The position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the time period allotted in advance for the West Bank settlement freeze is well known, and has not changed."

In the days leading up to the opening of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Netanyahu had stated that building will continue in West Bank settlements after the 10-month moratorium is lifted Sept. 26. He later backtracked, saying construction could be limited in scope.

Abbas accepted Clinton’s suggestion, Asharq Al Awsat reported.

The suggestion reportedly proposed that once the borders of the new Palestinian state are set during those three months, Israel could resume building in areas that will remain under its control. 

In a briefing about the meetings on Wednesday night, U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell confirmed that settlements and the moratorium had been discussed, although he would not release details.

"We believe that these negotiations, having begun and having moved very quickly to serious and substantive discussions, should continue," Mitchell said. "And that has been and remains our policy. We recognize that there are serious issues and challenges that are highly sensitive politically for both parties and for both leaders. We have and do encourage them to engage directly on those issues, and we join with them to share our views on how best to deal with them."

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