Israel Freezes Settlement Construction on West Bank

George Mitchell, the U.S. Middle East peace envoy, said the action “falls short of a full settlement freeze but it is more than any Israeli government has done before.”

Palestinian spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh told the official Wafa news agency that the Palestinian Authority “rejects returning to peace talks without the complete cessation of settlement activities in the West Bank and Jerusalem.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been facing pressure from the U.S. to halt all West Bank settlement- building, which the Palestinians have said is a precondition for resuming peace talks. Efforts by President Barack Obama to bring the two sides together have failed to break the stalemate , Bloomberg reports.

It was also repoted, Israel's decision to freeze settlement construction in insignificant, according to top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, as current West Bank construction is not being stopped.

He said Wednesday's announcement by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was aimed more toward appeasing American pressure than truly trying to reconcile with Palestinians.

"At the end of the day Netanyahu needs to make peace with us, the Palestinians, he doesn't need to make peace with Americans," Erekat told Army Radio. "If that is what he wants, that is his business. The last I know, Washington is 6,000 miles from Jerusalem, while Jericho is 67," Jerusalem Post reports.

In the meantime, t he Anti-Defamation League on Thursday hailed the Israeli decision as "a courageous and unprecedented step," saying that it "unquestionably demonstrates Israel's deep and ongoing commitment to reaching a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians."

The organization urged the Palestinian Authority in turn "to respond meaningfully to this significant step by Israel, and take their own meaningful action to promote reconciliation, peace and security with Israel."

The Washington-based lobby J Street also welcomed the move, saying in a statement Wednesday that it "shares the Obama administration's hope that today's announcement by the Israeli government on settlement construction will allow a focus in the coming months on establishing a two-state solution and advancing toward comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace."

The group also urged all parties in the Mideast to commit further to the peace process, saying that "Israel, the Palestinians and the broader Arab world will all need to do far more if we are to see real progress toward resolution of the conflict," Ha'aretz reports.

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