Page last updated at 14:10 GMT, Wednesday, 24 June 2009 15:10 UK

US-Israel talks in Paris aborted

Construction of Jewish settlement in the West Bank
Peace Now says many settlers move from Israel or abroad

A meeting between Israel's prime minister and a senior US envoy has been cancelled amid growing differences over settlement building in the West Bank.

Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot said the US put off the meeting in response to Benjamin Netanyahu's refusal to heed US demands to halt settlement activity.

But Mr Netanyahu's aides say it was the prime minister who cancelled Thursday's meeting with George Mitchell in Paris.

They said "more professional work" was needed, without adding further details.

Instead, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak is now scheduled to travel to Washington on Monday to meet Mr Mitchell.

Mr Netanyahu has arrived in Paris from Rome, on his first trip to Europe since he took office.

He is promoting his hawkish line on Iran, seeking harsher sanctions over its nuclear programme.

US State Department officials confirmed that the bilateral talks in Paris had been postponed, but they did not explain why it was necessary for their envoy to see Mr Barak on Monday instead.

'Unnatural growth'

US President Barack Obama has called for a freeze on construction of settlements, which are widely viewed as illegal under international law.

Mr Netanyahu has said he will not build additional enclaves in occupied Palestinian territory - but he wants to continue building within existing settlements to foster what Israel views as their "natural growth".

Benjamin Netanyahu in Rome
Mr Netanyahu is on his first visit to Europe since taking office as Israeli PM

However, Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now said on Wednesday that the rise in settler numbers is considerably greater than the birth-rate.

They cite figures from Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics which show that 36% of all new settlers in 2007 had moved from Israel or abroad.

About 300,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank and and another 180,000 in East Jerusalem. These were among the Arab territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war.

The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank was 116,300 in 1993 - when Israel and the Palestinians signed the landmark Oslo accords in which both sides undertook not to take any action that would undermine negotiations towards a permanent resolution.

The Palestinian Authority wants to establish a future Palestinian state in the whole of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip - currently ruled by the rival militant Hamas movement.

Mr Netanyahu finally bowed to US pressure to endorse the principle of Palestinian statehood in a speech 10 days ago, but he put a raft of conditions on its creation which Palestinian leaders called unacceptable.

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