Israel rebuffs US call for total settlement freeze

Israel will press ahead with housing construction in its West Bank settlements despite a surprisingly blunt demand from US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that all such building stop, an Israeli official said Thursday. The Israeli position could set the stage for a showdown with the US on the day President Barack Obama meets his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, at the White House. Abbas has said the freeze of the Israeli settlements will top his agenda in the talks. Israel contests that new construction must take place to accommodate for expanding families inside the existing settlements, which the US and much of the world consider an obstacle to peace because they are built on land the Palestinians claim for a future state. When asked to respond to Clinton's call for a total settlement freeze, government spokesman Mark Regev said that "normal life in those communities must be allowed to continue." Pressed on whether the phrase "normal life" meant some construction will take place in existing settlements, Regev said it did.