Israel's largest daily newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, reported on Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have reached an agreement to halt all Jewish construction in Judea, Samaria and the eastern half of Jerusalem in compliance with the demands of US President Barack Obama.
The freeze will last until 2010, and will be presented to the Americans as a gesture of goodwill and a test to see if the Palestinians are willing to live up to finally their peace obligations.
The decision sparked immediate outrage among right-wing Israelis, who said the move was reminiscent of Netanyahu's ideological collapse during his first term as prime minister in 1996. Then, just as during his current term, Netanyahu entered office vowing to never give up Israel's right to the land, and to not make any serious concessions until the Palestinians reciprocated previous concessions.
Months later, Netanyahu was strong-armed by then-US President Bill Clinton into surrendering nearly all of the ancient Judean city of Hebron.
The decision to halt Jewish construction on the eastern side of Jerusalem came as a particular surprise to those who believed Netanyahu was the only candidate that would preserve the capital's unity under Israeli control. Right-wing Israeli leaders said that if Netanyahu continues with the policies of his rival, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, there will be no reason to keep him in office, and he will find himself facing a no-confidence vote just as he did during his first term.
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