Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office on Tuesday denied reports earlier in the day that he had struck a deal with Defense Minister Ehud Barak to halt the growth of Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and the eastern side of Jerusalem in compliance with US President Barack Obama's demands.
In fact, Netanyahu's office noted, a de facto settlement freeze has been in place for about four months, since Netanyahu took office.
Netanyahu has declined to approve any new construction starts in Jewish communities in those areas claimed by the Palestinians since becoming prime minister, despite his firm insistence that Jews, like Arabs, should be permitted to build and live wherever they choose.
Israeli officials said that while Netanyahu has refrained from drawing public attention to the settlement freeze until now, international peace brokers who needed to know were well aware of his government's actions.
During a press conference with visiting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Washington on Tuesday, Obama said he was very "encouraged" by the public revelation that Israel is no longer allowing Jews to build houses on their ancient lands.
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