PM seeks to minimize end-of-freeze hype
Netanyahu's office asks ministers to refrain from commenting on end of West Bank settlement building freeze, Right to tone down planned celebrations. Barak says there is 50-50 chance to resolve issue; French FM states international community will not accept resumed construction
Nevertheless, the Prime Minister's Office issued a special request of the ministers, urging them not to give interviews or make any statements on the matter.
Natan Eshel, the Prime Minister's Office's bureau chief, met Sunday with Knesset Member Danny Danon (Likud), one of the louder voices opposing any extension to the settlement freeze, and asked him to tone down any "end-of-freeze" celebrations planned by the Right, so to minimize friction with the international community on the matter.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, speaking with the BBC before flying back to Israel, said that at this point, he believed there was a "50-50" chance of reaching a deal with Palestinians about Israel's settlement moratorium as a 10-month partial ban winds down.
Barak told the BBC that while he was "not confident" in his ability to convince cabinet members to prolong the b construction suspension, he was more upbeat on the prospects for the peace talks in general.
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Sunday that the "issue of the settlement freeze is critical and must ne resolved."
Speaking with London-based Arabic-language newspaper al-Hayat Kouchner said that "if we can play a part here we will – but we will do so with our American friends."
A final decision regarding any construction suspension in the West Bank "will ultimately be up to Israel, but international public opinion will not stand for anything but extending the settlement freeze."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Paris on Sunday for a two-day visit. He is scheduled to meet with representatives of the Jewish community in France on Sunday and with President Nicolas Sarkozy and Prime Minister Francois Fillon on Monday.
The Associated Press and Roee Nahmias contributed to this report
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