Israeli officials said that the government would authorize building hundreds of housing units in West Bank settlements, and then it expected to freeze construction for six to nine months in anticipation of restarting peace talks with the Palestinians.
The seemingly contradictory steps reflected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s balancing of interests as he tries to satisfy his own party, Likud, which wants settlements to continue unimpeded, and the Obama administration, joined by Palestinians and the Arab world, which say all building must stop now.
Both sides criticized Netanyahu’s plan, though some analysts said that the blend of half-measures was necessary to advance talks while holding his government together, Boston Globe informs.
According to Bloomberg,"The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement expansion and we urge that it stop," President Barack Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said in a statement. "Continued settlement activity is inconsistent with Israel’s commitment" under the road map toward a Middle East peace.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and the US on Friday condemned an Israeli plan to approve construction of West Bank settlement homes before it considers a freeze sought by Washington. "This is not acceptable," said Abbas.
"We want a freeze on settlement and the launch of negotiations on the final phase of it," he said after meeting French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris.
The European Union also condemned the Israeli announcement, demanding an immediate end to settlement construction.
"The position of the European Union is well known. All settlement activities must stop," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters on the margins of an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Stockholm, AFP reports.
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