Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will approve the construction of hundreds of new housing units in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and then implement a full settlement freeze, according to reports in the Israeli media on Friday.
The new units will be in addition to the 2,500 units on which construction began before Netanyahu took office, and which the prime minister has said he cannot call off at this point.
Reports indicate that Netanyahu made the US aware of his intentions, but US Embassy staff in Tel Aviv said they doubt the Obama Administration signed off on the plan.
Since taking office, US President Barack Obama has built his Middle East peace policies around an end to the Jewish presence in areas currently claimed by the Palestinians. He has insisted that Israel must halt even natural growth in Jewish communities in the so-called "West Bank," and even on the eastern side of Jerusalem.
Netanyahu originally responded to that pressure by saying he could not halt construction already in progress, but also by quietly refusing to approve any new projects. The hundreds of housing units he now intends to approve would represent a final round of natural growth for those communities prior to a temporary settlement freeze.
In Netanyahu's mind, that freeze would last indefinitely only if the Palestinians and neighboring Arabs states responded with positive diplomatic gestures toward Israel. But many Israelis fear that once a settlement freeze is in place, Obama will use heavy-handed diplomatic tactics to ensure it stays in place even if the Arabs fail to reverse their hostility.
Meanwhile, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Netanyahu's plan to approve a few hundred more Jewish homes in Judea and Samaria is unacceptable. Erekat told the AFP news agency that if Netanyahu goes through with the plan, the Palestinians will completely turn their back on the peace process.
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