Netanyahu expected to extend settlement freeze for Obama

Monday, July 05, 2010 |  Israel Today Staff

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the White House this week, he is expected to offer US President Barack Obama an extension to the self-imposed 10-month Jewish building freeze in Judea and Samaria, which is scheduled to expire in late September.

In return, Obama will "hint" at American acceptance of continued Israeli control of large settlement blocs under any future peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Those are the terms The Jerusalem Post reported Israeli and American officials discussing before Netanyahu left for Washington on Monday.

Netanyahu imposed the freeze under heavy US pressure as a means encouraging the Palestinian Authority to return to the negotiating table. As expected, however, the Palestinians refused to take the bait, and have held out in hopes of the freeze becoming permanent and extending to the eastern half of Jerusalem. Obama, desperate to show progress in the peace process, is expected to aid the Palestinians on that front.

But Netanyahu has serious opposition to extending the freeze at home. On Sunday he had to plead with his Ministerial Committee on Legislation to oppose a new bill that would subject any future settlement building freezes to a Knesset vote. The committee shot down the bill by a vote of 8-5, meaning it will not have coalition support when it is presented to the Knesset plenum and is likely to fail there as well.

Netanyahu reportedly feared coalition support for the bill would embarrass him ahead of his meeting with Obama. But right-wing coalition members and the right-wing voting public reminded Netanyahu that when he imposed the freeze, he promised it would be lifted without hesitation should the Palestinians fail to respond to the gesture positively.

The building freeze has driven up house prices in the Jewish towns of Judea and Samaria, which had previously been the fastest growing communities in Israel due to the quality of life they offered.

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