Israeli PM considers settlement freeze

Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will consider suspending West Bank settlement construction for several months – after approving hundreds of new apartments there – an aide said today.

The US has been pressing Israel to agree to a settlement freeze and the Palestinians said they would not resume peace talks unless Israel suspended construction on lands they want for a future state.

Today’s statement was the first time an aide had said in the name of the prime minister’s office that such a move could be imminent.

He spoke anonymously because he was not authorised to disclose plans Mr Netanyahu had not officially announced.

It was unclear to what extent Israel would actually freeze construction. Mr Netanyahu made it clear through his aide that Israel did not intend to abandon its West Bank settlement enterprise and it seemed clear that thousands of units would continue to be built in the West Bank even during a supposed freeze.

In the next few days, the aide said, the prime minister would approve the construction of hundreds of new apartments in the West Bank.

He did not have a specific number. But he said they would be in addition to the 2,500 already under construction and will continue to be built.

The building will be centred in the main settlement blocs, areas Israel hopes to retain after any peace deal.

In exchange for a suspension, Mr Netanyahu would expect the Arab world to take steps towards normal relations with Israel, the aide added.

The Palestinians want the West Bank as part of a future state, along with east Jerusalem and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, and see continued settlement construction as a sign that Israel is not serious about making peace.

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