ISRAEL: New campaign counts down to end of settlement construction freeze
April 23, 2010 | 10:57 am
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in December declared a 10-month construction freeze in the West Bank settlements. He said he hoped the move would "help launch meaningful negotiations to reach an historic peace agreement that would finally end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians."
It could have, maybe, but the freeze -- gradually renamed "suspension" -- was partial, didn't include East Jerusalem and was rejected by the Palestinians. Things floundered around until last month when ill-timed reports of construction planned in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem dragged down peace matters -- along with Israeli-U.S. relations -- during Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel.
Netanyahu has since been under heavy pressure to apply a full freeze in Jerusalem and come up with a positive policy on other issues. After weeks of consultations among the ministerial "forum of seven," Netanyahu answered U.S. demands, reportedly a list of 11 points. On Jerusalem, the answer was no. At least publicly. Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar writes that President Obama has offered Netanyahu a gentleman's agreement on Jerusalem, understanding that Netanyahu cannot afford to hint that Jerusalem is being treated like West Bank settlements -- a Middle East version of "don't ask, don't tell."
The freeze is already halfway through, ending in September, right around the corner.