No ‘natural growth’ policy change, Mitchell says


WASHINGTON (JTA) — George Mitchell said the United States continues to demand that Israel halt "natural growth" of settlements.

In a press briefing Tuesday at the State Department, the Obama administration’s special envoy to the Middle East called "highly inaccurate" an Israeli newspaper report claiming that the Obama administration would allow "natural growth" of settlements and emphasized there has been "no change in our policy."

But when asked for a definition of what the term "natural growth" means, Mitchell was unclear — first saying there was no accepted definition, then stating that "the most common definition" is "number of births."

"Well, of course, one of the issues is that there is no universally used and accepted definition," he said, according to a transcript. "The most common definition is by the number of births, but there are many variations of that. I’ve had numerous discussions with many Israeli and other officials, and there are almost as many definitions as there are people speaking. But I think the most commonly used measure is the number of births."

Asked a follow-up question, Mitchell declined to elaborate further.

Mitchell also said he hoped that negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians could resume in "a matter of weeks, not many months."

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